Saturday, May 31, 2008

Who pays the piper?

I have been thinking about the implications of the Labour Party's financial crisis for the trade unions in General and UNISON in particular.

It turns out that, whereas the finances of trade unions are quite closely regulated, there is nothing to prevent a political party being an unincorporated association, so that all members of its ruling body are jointly and severally liable.

This is the case in respect of the Labour Party, which faces enormous debts and an absence of available donors. Each individual member of the Party's NEC could be liable for up to the full amount of these debts.

The GMB have stated in public that they will indemnify the GMB members on the Labour Party NEC - and I have today asked, as a member of UNISON's NEC whether we will be doing the same.

What it means for trade unions to indemnify one or more members of the Labour Party NEC is that - in effect - the trade unions are saying that, if the worst comes to the worst, they will cover the Party's debts.

This raises issues about the financial implications for the trade unions - and the political implications for the movement as a whole.

For trade unions already facing - in the case of both UNISON and the GMB - enormous costs arising from litigation around Equal Pay, any additional financial burden will be as welcome as (say) a public sector pay freeze.

So what about the political implications?

If the trade unions do bail out the Labour Party financially, what will we - and our members see in return?

I would like to think it might be something like this.

But I rather fear it might be more like this...

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