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

Saturday, 3 August 2013

National Archives reveal parallels between Thatcher era anti union strategies & Miliband proposals

Documents released this week by the National Archives revealed a 1982 Tory paper on trade union reform which has an uncanny similarity to Ed Miliband’s proposed changes to the Union labour link. Leading Thatcherite strategist, Ferdinand Mount, then head of the Number 10 policy unit, set out a Government objective for the year 2000 of “a trade union movement much reduced in size” but added that the Conservative Party also wanted "a trade union movement whose exclusive relationship with the Labour Party is reduced out of all recognition... it is absurd and unjust that millions of Conservatives, Liberals and Social Democrats should be supporting the Labour Party directly or indirectly.”

The Daily Telegraph reports that ‘in the same file Norman Tebbit, the secretary of state for employment, wrote the time was ripe to review the operation of the Trade Union Act 1913 and “in particular to consult about ending the anomalous and increasingly unsatisfactory arrangements for contracting out of the political levy”. Tebbit argued it was “absurd” that eight million members of unions were contributing to political funds, which was at odds with the actual voting patterns of members at general elections.

The strategic Tory objective of reducing trade union size was achieved beyond doubt by a combination of deindustrialisation, privatisation, ruthless anti union laws and in no small part to the failure of union organising strategies to adapt to economic and technological change.

However Tory attempts to stifle the political voice of trade unions have so far been less successful with every trade union political fund review ballot (imposed by the Trade Union Act 1984) being carried in all member postal ballots.

Given this historical context, that Ed Miliband is proposing to end Labour's relationship with at least 90% (according to best estimates) of the 3 million trade unionists who pay a trade union political levy in the knowledge that their union is affiliated to Labour is an own goal of massive proportions.