More than two decades on from Conservative governments’ taming of the unions’ destructive power to hold the country to ransom, it is time we took away their power to read their members’ minds.
It is easy to pretend that all trade unionists vote Labour – and this week in Brighton, union leaders will certainly try to act as the conscience of Old Labour. But that is not the case now – the last polling says that a quarter of union members would vote Conservative if an election were held tomorrow – and it was not the case previously either. We would do well to remember the politically-neutral stance of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers during the miners’ strike for example.
So it is all the more wrong that we still allow union leaders to misrepresent their members’ opinions, and to apportion part of their subs to support a party – Labour – for which many of them will not vote.
That is why the unions’ ‘political funds’ must change. Because as they
stand right now, they are the embodiment of career trade unionists’
disdain for their members’ views –and the militants’ political weapon
Let me say something that Conservatives do not always say: It is right
that trade unionists should be able to opt-in to a political levy.
Trade unions have become more than just bargaining collectives –and so
long as their members are happy with that, then we too should accept
it. But it is a throwback to the 1960s that anyone wishing their union
to lobby for change should be forced to do it via Labour alone.
This all-or-nothing approach is a faint echo of the ‘you’re with us or
you’re against us’ attitude of the past. It fails to reflect the fact
that we live today in an age that is far more concerned with causes,
and far less with rigid party lines. The days of political parties
having millions of members between them has gone. We now live in a
country where pressure groups, charities and campaigning organisations
have at least as much relevance as political parties.
So here is a proposal. Keep the political levy– on a voluntary, opt-in
basis of course. But allow individual members to decide which political
party should receive their individual subscription –and apportion it
accordingly. And go further than that –allow individual members to give
their donation to a vastly wider range of organisations, too. Pressure
groups such as Liberty or the TaxPayers’ Alliance could be
beneficaries, or charities such as Help The Aged, Cancer Research UK or
The Royal British Legion.
That way we could complete the work begun in the 1980s and let Union
members have the final say on where their hard earned money is