UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Trade Union political voice silenced in New South Wales

In perhaps a harbinger of things to come in the UK, trade unions in the Australian state of New South Wales are mounting a High Court challenge to draconian new legislation which will ban unions from affiliating or donating to the Australian Labour Party (ALP). Mark Lennon of Unions NSW said: "These laws are aimed squarely at working people and their unions, but do nothing to restrain the influence of wealthy individuals"

Professor Keith Ewing comments that "for all practical purposes the ALP has been declared unlawful as originally created. Formed by trade unions to give working people a political voice, the State has now decided that the ALP can no longer exist in its present form, a form that is an untidy mixture of individual and collective membership. Under the Constitution of the Party, there are two kinds of membership: individual and affiliated. Both individual and collective members pay a membership fee, and both have legal rights and duties that arise from membership. Affiliation is not simply a declaration of support or an oath of fealty. It is a form of membership practised by trade union based labour parties all over the world.

This attack on the ALP represents a major violation of constitutional principle, as recognised elsewhere in English speaking jurisdictions, where trade union based parties flourish. It is of the essence of the principle of freedom of association that political parties come in all shapes and sizes, and in different organisational forms. Party structure is a matter for citizens, not the State.

If trade unions need to form a political party, why should they be denied the right to do so? If citizens are prepared to engage with political parties through intermediary organisations such as trade unions, why should this not be celebrated and encouraged? And if voters are willing to accept the expanded electoral choice offered by this form of party organisation, why should it be taken away from them?"