Why members should vote ‘NO’ to an NUJ political fund
All of the NUJ's activities are political. But the NUJ has absolutely no
need of a political fund.
Please vote. Please consider voting "No" when the ballot papers arrive
this month. For this union's equilibrium, integrity and ability to support
its members in difficult, even dangerous, political situations, it is vital
that this fund does not come into being.
The crux is that, under the Conservatives' Trades Union and Labour
Relations Act, 1992, unions are compelled to have political funds only if
they wish to i) join a political party, or ii) in some other way give money
to a party or election candidate, or iii) otherwise spend money on a party,
including campaigning for or against any political party or candidate in an
election (see details below quoted from the trade union Certification
Office's website www.certoffice.org/guidance/pdf/politicalFund.pdf).
These are all things the NUJ's members have never wished to do, and for
very good reasons. The NUJ has a unique position among British and Irish
trade unions simply because many of our members in all media, staff and
freelance, report party politics. How they do this - striving for
objectivity or rooting for their favourites - is between them and their
editors. That's the press freedom we champion. It's of fundamental value to
these politically frontline members that the union does not queer their
pitch by declaring a preference and deploying members' money for or against
The NEC's only undertaking in this area is not to use a political fund
to affiliate to the Labour Party. Which is good, if a limited limitation.
However, some pro-funders have been advocating its use to oppose BNP
Well, it's conceivable that every single NUJ member would personally
denounce the BNP. This, though, is a self-satisfaction the union as a body
should deny itself. Our key role in upholding journalistic freedom would be
undermined by taking an official stand against any party.
To get to the heart of this matter it's helpful to look beyond the
narrow specifics of the BNP argument and consider the position of our
members in Northern Ireland. There the union's resolute neutrality has
played an indispensable role in preserving both press freedom and the lives
of journalists. If it's both appropriate and life-or-death necessary for us
not to take party-political sides when the chips are really down, then that
should remain our guiding principle.
Following the NEC's decision to campaign for a "yes" vote - rather than
foster debate - the Journalist published a spread proffering their side of
the argument only.
One article stated that, legally, trade unions must have a political
fund "if they want to spend money campaigning on issues that have a
political content". But the Certification Officer's summary of the law shows
that this is utterly wrong - a confusion of the general meaning of
"political" and the word's strictly "party-political" meaning in the 1992
Equally unfounded was the facing article's implication that the future
of the union's "top 10" campaigns on core issues such as workplace rights,
pensions, protecting the BBC, the right to report and copyright depends on
the establishment of a political fund. Without such a fund, the union always
has and always will be able to spend money on these issues - so long as it
doesn't give any to political parties or politicians to enlist their
The NEC also argues that, if we carry on campaigning without a fund, we
risk complaints being brought against us under the 1992 Act.
The emotional reaction is to say that the NUJ hasn't made a habit of
running scared from Tory anti-union laws - especially when, in five
Conservative years and seven Labour, no trade union actually has been
"charged" under that Act. Further, the only actual case the political fund
worriers ever refer to was brought against NALGO in 1987 (under the Trade
Union Act, 1913, since consolidated into the 1992 Act). Without a fund,
during an election NALGO had financed a vote-for-public-services poster
campaign in marginal seats; the court decreed this amounted to saying,
"Don't vote Tory". Which was rough, but surely not something to knot our
knickers 17 years later.
Really, the risk of prosecution seems remote - a feeling supported by
the fact that only about half of the TUC's 73 unions have political funds
(around 20 of them have affiliated to the Labour Party).
In sum, the absence of a political fund will not prevent us doing
anything we want to do. The creation of a political fund would not enable us
to do anything that we do want to do, and spending it to support or oppose
any politician or party could undermine some our most important work and
endanger vulnerable members.
It's a bad idea.