What will unions do in the election?

Submitted by cathy n on 10 March, 2015 - 11:26 Author: Colin Foster

The big unions are working on a drive to encourage people to register to vote in time for the general election (by 20 April). And in the last quarter of 2014 Unite, Unison, and GMB each gave the Labour Party £1 million for its election campaign.

Missing, though, is union activity aimed at raising issues and mobilising workers not only to vote but also to put demands on Labour. The only thing like even Unison's anaemic "Million Voices for Change" campaign of 2010 (formally still going, but only formally) is the "Action for Rail" campaign of the rail unions.

One reason is changes in the law. Law professor Keith Ewing explains in a recent article that the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning etc Act 2013 says that if a union wants to spend more than £20,000 in the election in England (or £10,000 in Scotland or Wales), it must comply with more detailed disclosure and reporting rules. At national level, each union can only spend up to £390,000.

This limit applies to any expenditure that can "reasonably be regarded as intended to influence voters to vote for or against political parties". And no more than £9,750 can be spent in each constituency.

"Targeted spending", which means spending "on regulated campaign activity that can reasonably be regarded as intended to influence voters to vote for one particular registered political party or any of its candidates" is limited to £40,000.
However, all that has not stopped "Action for Rail". Other unions could do at least as much as that.

And Ewing adds: "One loophole that appears to survive from the law introduced in 2000 is that trade unions are free to contact their members with election messages, including who to vote for messages.

"This expenditure is not regulated. The other major exception is for newspapers...."

Ewing's suggestion on newspapers is that unions fund special issues of the Morning Star. But unions need not tie themselves to the neo-Stalinist politics of the Star. For 31 years, between 1929 and 1960 the TUC funded the Daily Herald. Why don't a few big unions get together and publish a paper for 31 days up to the general election, pushing union demands as well as a vote for Labour?

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