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

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Crowd Sourcing Political Funds - A Strategy for opening up the Union?

Political Funds and donations to the Labour Party are all the rage this week. The Falkirk selection process and others much like it have been thrown like a beach ball into the middle of a football pitch. So at a time of grinding poverty and misery, with lives and communities in utter turmoil we are being pulled into a debate about the selection of Labour candidates and the role of unions in that. Miliband has been fronted and his instinct was to say `you`re half right`.

There is a standing debate about our political funds and our relationship with Labour. But the debate is about how we maximise involvement - not obstruct it. It is also in the wider context of how we increase engagement of the ordinary worker. In other words how we become more relevant.

Dan Hind from the NUJ takes an ambitious look at his own union`s lack of a fund (lost in a controversial vote some years ago) and what could be gained by having a new style of fund, with access for ordinary members through IT to follow or support projects and presumably oppose them (that is not clear). It would work like crowd sourcing - the means by which individuals use web sites to attract individual donations to a project that needs funding. It is currently a fashionable way to raise money for films.

It is clear that this sort of engagement through the web site would be better than what we have, that it would be more attractive because it allows immediate access to choices about what the union does with its funds. So far so good. But could it also become the instrument of the `desk warriors` - those people who are unrepresentative of our membership will seek to exploit the opportunity for funding of projects outside our interests? It is not clear how that issue would be dealt with. Hind himself concedes that it could become the target of Conservative activists who join a union and use that membership to syphon funds to their party.

There has to be room within boundaries for some method of encouraging interest and involvement in the funds. We shouldn`t rule out the attractive aspects of the crowd sourcing approach - its accessibility, its opportunity to engage and the swift way of establishing support for good progressive proposals. But generally we can say that UNISON`s General Political Fund works really well, its campaigns are effective and represent members interests - whether it be campaigns about the NHS or Teaching Assistants - so it is tempting to say leave it alone.

The debate that Cameron and Falkirk have started is being turned into a nightmare for the Labour Party. If Miliband`s proposals go through there will be less money for the only Party claiming to support organized workers. The General Political Funds will grow enormously. We need to be ready for that and making those funds more accessible to ordinary members will be a good thing.