WITH DAVID CAMERON talking tough on the subject of public spending cuts, it will be interesting to see if the new Government takes the axe to the establishment union cash cow known as the “Union Modernisation Fund” (UMF).
The UMF was an initiative begun by the Nu Labour administration with the publicly stated intention of being “…..a Government grant scheme providing financial assistance to independent trade unions……It is designed to support innovative modernisation projects which contribute to a transformational change in the organisational effectiveness of a trade union…..”. Not many outside of the establishment union world have heard of it, and for those that have it raises some interesting questions.
Firstly, with incomes and assets that would be the envy of many PLCs, the establishment unions are hardly in dire straits financially unlike many of their ordinary members in these hard times. For example, it was recently reported that amongst the property owned by UNITE is Esher Place in Surrey which is used as a conference centre, includes a suite of rooms for the General Secretary and is worth £100 million. UNITE’s HQ is reportedly decorated with a £50,000 artwork by Antony Gormley. Yet despite this wealth the Guardian reported in March that since 2006 UNITE had received some £4.4 million from the Union Modernisation and Union Learning Fund. More on what was paid to which union can be found in the House of Commons Hansard Written Answers section of 8 March 2010, although, alas, nothing as to what use the money was put! Why was taxpayers’ money given to unions that are quite clearly capable of paying for any “modernisation” from their own coffers?
Secondly, how independent were the unions from the the Nu Labour Government? Solidarity recently examined the relationship between Nu Labour and the establishment unions and raised some serious questions as to whether the interests of the working population were being sacrificed to prop-up and then re-elect Labour. In March the senior Conservative MP Francis Maude described the funding of UNITE by the state as a “real racket, with taxpayers’ money being round-tripped into Gordon Brown’s re-election fund”. This passing of funds from the Labour government to the unions and then the funding of the Labour party by the unions must be open to some serious queries.
Will Cameron and the Con-Dem Government grasp the nettle and channel the UMF money into supporting genuine public services that are under threat in the current economic climate? Or will they be too frightened of the wrath of the establishment union barons to turn-off the tap of this flow of taxpayers’ money into the establishment unions’ money chests?