Archive article from The Socialist Issue 301
Amicus, The Political Fund And New Labour
'Political fund - who needs it?' That is the question asked in the current Amicus-MSF journal, as we prepare to vote on the retention or otherwise of the union's political fund. This ballot is required by law every ten years.
Mick Cotter, Amicus-MSF London Region Craft MM
This is a law introduced by the Tories to obstruct workers in their desire for political representation. There are no comparable restrictions on businesses. Therefore I am opposed to this law; we should be entitled to do what we choose with our union funds.
However, this current debate is not going to revolve around the historical reasons behind this law, it is primarily going to focus on the union's funding of New Labour.
The literature circulating within the union deliberately downplays the extent of MSF spending on New Labour for obvious reasons. In my estimation the union probably spends upwards of 90% of its political fund on New Labour in one way or another. But it is New Labour attacking our members' working conditions through things like PFI, Agenda for Change, Foundation Hospitals to name but a few.
Amicus-MSF boasts 80 New Labour MPs in its parliamentary group, a good number of whom vote consistently against the spirit of many of MSF conference policies, as well as issues reflecting general principled trade unionism.
How many of them opposed Prescott's bill restricting FBU members' union rights? This would be New Labour's GCHQ [when the Tories withdrew trade union rights from workers at its secret communications establishment] if it becomes law.
But what of our union's leadership? Rather than take New Labour to task in any meaningful way they continue to cosy up and make excuses for them.
It will come as no surprise then that members equate the political fund ballot with the record of New Labour and many are undoubtedly going to register a protest by either voting 'No' or abstaining.
I am not in favour of non-political unions, we should be funding parties and individuals who represent our members' interests. As New Labour no longer fits that bill with its pro-big business agenda, then we need to engage in the process of creating a new mass workers' party.
The problem is that this is not an issue which can be solved overnight. One immediate obstacle is the following rule which has a distinct possibility of being carried as part of a whole new rule book, (individual rules are not amendable) at our annual conference, as part of the new merged union of MSF/AEEU which forms Amicus. It is also proposed that rules can be amended in 2005 but thereafter only every six years.
"The union and any body or part of the union shall not affiliate to or give support to the candidates of any other political party in Great Britain other than the Labour Party. Each branch of the union in Great Britain shall be entitled to affiliate and elect delegates to Constituency Labour Parties."
The journal poses a number of questions as well as informing members that even if they vote for the fund they can individually opt out of paying it. Unfortunately, the central problem of New Labour remains unmentioned. There is a danger that activists can be a bit over-sophisticated within the union structures whereas ordinary members tend to take a more direct view.
Campaigns can be instigated to change union policy and rules but it can take time. Will that satisfy health workers who are suffering now as a direct result of government policy? Meanwhile as a union we continue to feed the dog that bites our hand.
By voting 'No' the membership could inflict a short sharp shock that would probably have a far speedier and dramatic effect on the union as well as on the attitude of the leadership. Who could blame them?
If there were a 'No' vote then it would be a clear rejection of New Labour. The Left within the union would then have to campaign for a further political fund ballot with rules allowing a genuine democratic debate amongst the membership as to how the funds are spent.