Ed Miliband praises Unison’s Labour fund ‘opt-in’… but it’s not that simple

Jon Rogers explains the reality of the Unison union's political fund arrangements
10 July 2013

In answer to media questions after his speech on the union link (9 July), Ed Miliband was asked specifically about whether the Unison political fund arrangements might provide a model for the shift to 'opting-in' to overt political affiliation for which he is looking.

He said that it might be part of the answer. It is therefore important to understand what the Unison arrangements actually are. Unison does not have two political funds (the law does not provide for this). In law, Unison has one political fund with two sections. The two sections are described (and accounted for) as if they were distinct funds, however.

The General Political Fund (GPF) is used like the political funds of non-affiliated trade unions, for general political campaigning, subject to the proviso that it cannot be used to support a political party. About two thirds of Unison members who haven't opted out altogether pay into the GPF. The GPF is administered by a committee of the national executive council, consisting exclusively of, and elected exclusively by, executive members who pay into the GPF. Formally it is not otherwise accountable to Unison's conference or NEC (although in practice it is at the disposal of the union generally).

The Affiliated Political Fund (APF) - known in recent years as 'Unison Labour Link' - is used like the political funds of affiliated trade unions, to pay our affiliation and for donations to the Labour Party. It also bears the cost of the separate structure of regional and national meetings which administer the APF, which has its own operational rules and is not directly accountable to Unison's conference or executive. Approximately a third of Unison members who pay into our political fund are in the APF.

Existing members can choose, at any point, to switch between the two sections of the political fund, to opt-out altogether or (for a small additional payment) to be a member of both sections of the political fund.

When they join, new members are offered a choice to tick one of two boxes for each section of the fund. Many don't. Those who don't are sent a reminder. Many don't reply.

Because they have not opted out of the (in law) one political fund (just not chosen between two different sections) these new members are then allocated administratively, 50% to the GPF and 50% to the APF.

Without this administrative allocation process, if the only members who were allocated to the APF were those who made a positive choice, the proportion of APF payers - that is, those whose money will go to Labour - would fall well below 33% in a few years.

This isn't the time or place for a detailed history of the Unison arrangements and their consequences. Unison's unique arrangements, which exist because of the need to broker a merger twenty years ago between a non-affiliated union and two smaller affiliated unions, should not however be characterised as an 'opt-in' arrangement, nor do they deliver the individuated relationship between trade unionists and the Labour Party which Ed Miliband appears to seek.


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TC 11 July 2013, 11.13

‘When they join, new members are offered a choice to tick one of two boxes for each section of the fund. Many don’t.’

‘Many don’t’ is an assertion unsupported by facts. In truth it’s a very samm minority of the 100,000 who join the union or rejoin each year. The default allocation of members who don’t opt in to either fund is set out in UNISON rules.

It’s a shame that John echoes the lies of those in the Socialist Party who oppose the Labour Link (and who called for opposition to a political fund (a NO vote!!) in the last UNISON statutory ballot because of their sectariain opposition to Labour. Even if the 50/50 i unduly generous to Lanour link no one could argues with 66/33 split. So we’re talking about a fractional factor.


Stephen 12 July 2013, 11.20

according to the Certification Officers annual report…1/3 of UNISON members currently don’t pay into either section of the Political Fund.

Unless there are more detailed figures in the reports to UNISON national Conference I’d suggest that tends to back up Jon R’s contention rather than TC’s.

In his speech Ed M seems to be adamant that he doesn’t want anyone affiliated as a member unless they have specifically approved it. The current wording round the APF box on the membership form doesn’t say this – it only talks about the destination of the money… I suppose an extra box could be added saying if you are an APF payer do you wish to be considered as an affiliated LP member etc .. but you’re getting to a hellish complex form at that point

Assuming its not done that way and the Simpler APF or GPF format is retained with the wording beefed up to say that “I’m happy to be an affiliated member” etc .. What that means, bearing in mind Ed M’s speech stressing opting in.is that if the neither political fund box is ticked ALL of the money will have to go to the GPF… a 2/3 1/3 split wouldn’t be possible.

Bob 14 July 2013, 08.42

Some clarification here on actual opt out levels as laid out in union annual returns


dr doom 25 July 2013, 11.16

The storm is still brewing but you know that one day it will be ready to burst. The NHS collapsing will lead this charge. Already its no mystery that crisis is throughout the service. Misery is especially in A+E and yet the medical staff are doing a fantastic job. But they will not be able to do anything when 300000+ disabled folk come there to die next year. The NHS has been set up to fail, by the twat government. But when it crashes it will have a catastrophic impact on the elderly.
The government is full of butchers, a motley bunch are awaiting your hatred, yes, the 1% have stabbed us all in the back. Lynton is a freak, a cancer on society – his only saving grace is he is not a Tory. Poor Ed made a brilliant speech but only seems to be able to gaze reprovingly at his navel. The millionaire champagne socialist is confused. Despite an education at Oxford he listened to a bunch of Blairite tossers and has bashed the unions. But we the people struck gold from his inadequacy, because now the far left has got its finger out. Serwotka and McCluskey are now forced to stand radical anti austerity mps against Labour.
Some people will probably burble that this is playing in the dirty hands of the filth, but I don’t give a fuck. Only an idiot with too much money will vote Tory at the next election. History is littered with rich fools. The Labour party is not fit for purpose as is shown by Byrne and Balls. Creasey tries, Meacher and McDonnell are stalwarts – there are maybe 15 more, but the rest are insipid dross.

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