The political fund - it's how, not whether, we campaign
Fund for thought
THE NUJ will be running a ballot in February on whether to set up a political fund.
Political funds are required by law if unions are affiliated to the Labour Party or if they engage in overtly political campaigning, such as supporting candidates or giving money to political parties (see the government site www.dti.gov.uk /er/union/funds-pl868.htm).
The union's annual conference last March instructed the National Executive (NEC) to organise a ballot and campaign for a yes vote.
The NEC's campaign material claims that a political fund is needed if the union is to continue to do the sort of bread-and-butter campaigning on journalistic and workplace issues that we have always done. Copyright, tax at source and rights at work are mentioned.
The NEC took this line, and its slogan, from the Trade Union Co-ordinating Committee, which is working to ensure "yes" votes in all the unions (the majority affiliated to Labour) that are having their ten yearly re-ballots: www. vote-yes.org.uk/about1.html
What we have not had so far from the NEC is a discussion about what a political fund would mean for a journalists' rather than a general union, and how the NUJ might campaign, had we a fund.
To state the obvious, as journalists we are in a unique position of trust in terms of reporting politics. To be credible as a union and a campaigning force, we need to represent journalists of all political views. And members working in politically sensitive areas need to feel comfortable with the line the union is taking.
Those in favour of the fund claim that it is being developed as a legal precaution, to ensure that future campaigning can't be disrupted by a single member taking a complaint to the certification officer. The (optional) extra £6 on the subs will help fund a more systematic approach to campaigning. There is no other agenda, they say.
But the context in which this ballot is being held can't be ignored. In Britain there is a drive to create a new political movement to fill the gap left by Labour's slide to the right. Some unions are taking a leading role in this.
Also in the mix are some small parties that hope to use unions' political funds to fund themselves (see www.exetersocialistalliance.org.uk/polfund.htm). At least one believes unions should infiltrate Labour to reclaim it for socialism.
The NUJ is traditionally a left union and proud of it. No-one would want an end to our efforts to change laws and influence politicians to improve the working lives of our members.
But we need urgently to talk about what the most effective ways are to campaign on the issues we all agree on.
Having a political fund would open the door to a much more overtly political - and party-political - approach. Although affiliating to Labour or any other party would require a ballot of members or a rule change and then a vote at conference, financial support short of affiliation could be given by a simple majority vote at the NEC to any campaign, party or member of a party, if their objectives chimed with our own.
Maybe this is what members want. But we need to have a proper discussion to find out.
LFB is organising a debate with other London branches: it's at Friends' House, Euston Road, at 7:30pm on Thursday 12 February. More details and links to arguments for and against here.