DFID supporting unions to make a difference in the world, not corrupt backhanders

Reading Carl Mortished’s article in the Times on Monday you’d think that they had discovered a corrupt and secret way for the Labour Party to pass money to the unions.  But then on closer inspection you realize that all the information is in fact clearly and transparently available on the TUC and DFID websites.

The Times article rightly acknowledges certain truths about the running of DFID, but its inferences are wrong. Its summary of the TUC and DFID websites, as well as the International Policy Network report, are largely accurate but do not tell the full story.

DFID most certainly does work closely with, and indeed does financially support, trade unions.  That support naturally includes the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which brings together nearly all Trade Unions in the UK and represents millions of workers. They do so for a number of reasons, none of them underhand and none of them related to any suggested links with the Labour party (with most of the TUC’s affiliates having no relationship with the Labour Party).

Trade unions form a highly important aspect of efforts on behalf of DFID, through education projects, to transform people’s approach to international development here in the UK. This goal has been clearly stated on the DFID website and funds have been channelled to achieve this by DFID, not only through trade unions but in many other ways as well: with £14 million being spent on this in total in 2008/9. Through their activities and its numerous members the TUC can play a central role in this, given the fact its members constitute a large part of the UK workforce.

On top of this the TUC and other UK trade unions have important and highly valuable links to trade unions around the world. These networks provide means to transform workers rights, combat corruption and inequality and to fight back against exploitation. For instance UNISON (a TUC affiliate) has supported trade unions in El Salvador and Malawi that have sought to stop water privatisation in those countries. UNISON is also highly active in supporting Southern African trade unions’ responses to HIV and Aids, this work being supported by DFID as well as UNISON’s own funds. As the Times suggests this relationship is two-way (as it is with many NGOs), with the trade unions themselves also seeking to shape policy and lobby Government on behalf of their member.  A good example being UNISON’s financial support of the running costs of the All Parties group on HIV/AIDS.

All of these actions are supported by DFID through the various elements of their Partnership Programme Agreement. As the International Policy Network paper readily concedes, numerous extremely useful projects have resulted from this interaction between DFID and the trade unions. While the paper, Closer Union, raises doubts about the transparency of this interaction and whether all the money is used effectively, one must not forget that DFID’s accounts are audited by the Independent Advisory Committee on Development.

In short, rights we consider as a matter of course here in the UK are often non-existent in the workplace around the world. From the right to work in a safe place, to the right to join together to form unions, and the right to decent pay and working hours, workers often need support in fighting for these basic rights.  Indeed trade unionists are still repressed and even killed in numerous countries like Columbia. In order to raise awareness of international development within our own domestic workforce, to work closely with networks of trade unions around the world to build the type of workers rights we enjoy here and to support important projects around the globe such as the fight against HIV and Aids, a close and mutually beneficial relationship between DFID and UK trade unions, particularly the TUC, is crucial. The sole reason DFID works with Trade Unions and the TUC is to help make life better for ordinary workers across the world.

By Daniel Sleat and James Anthony, LCID trade union officers.

Daniel is a Labour Party activist currently working for Andrew Judge, Labour PPC for Wimbledon.

James is a member of the UNISON National Executive Council representing the West Midlands and represents the affiliated Trade Unions on the Young Labour National Committee.

Global Leadership Shown on Aids

World Aids Day: A time to remember the lost and for the world to take action to ensure a preventable disease ravaging many developing countries doesn’t blight future generations.

I started working on HIV and Aids with the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in South Africa in 2005. The country was in the midst of a health disaster – rates of new infections were soaring, treatment wasn’t reaching those in need and the South African government had taken dangerous steps by entertaining denialists and publicly recommending garlic and olive oil in place of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs).

World Aids Day in 2005 went by in a flurry, with Zackie Achmat – TAC’s then Chairperson and a founding member– declaring staff to continue working on as usual as ‘every day is World Aids Day here’.  There was much to do, and Zackie’s drive helped to push forward a major treatment material, ‘ARVs In Our Lives’.

Things look very different in 2009. I was buoyed with news reaching me in London of South Africa’s current President, Jacob Zuma, showing real leadership in his country’s fight against HIV and Aids, declaring he’ll take a HIV test and commit to providing all HIV-positive children under a year with anti-retroviral drugs. His words signal an end to denialism and a new start for South Africa.

And so I proudly wore my TAC t-shirt today to Number 10, where Gordon and Sarah Brown attended a special performance from the African Children’s Choir to mark the day. The Prime Minister reiterated his words from his official address and with 5 million people still seeking treatment, he provided words of determination in tackling the fight still ahead.

The UK government is the second biggest bilateral Aids donor, and is looking to secure this position by legally committing to 0.7% spending on international aid. I hope this commitment materialises and call on all to back the campaign to secure this so the UK’s sterling work to ensure HIV and Aids becomes history can continue with force.

Serena O’Sullivan

Trade Unions tackling AIDS

World Aids Day is an important time to stop and think, and an important moment to be open and honest, raise awareness and dispel the stigma of HIV/AIDS.

I will always remember the first time I wore a red ribbon on the 1st December. I was at secondary school, and I didn’t think twice about proudly wearing it in support of people with HIV/AIDS. However it became a struggle to keep it on through the day as kids taunted me for wearing it, saying it meant I had AIDS.
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I’d love to think this wouldn’t happen today (this was well over a decade ago), but the fact is stigma and prejudice against people with HIV is still rife. That is why World Aids Day and the wearing of red ribbons are still so important, and why HIV/AIDS is still an important Trade Union issue. Like all discrimination, Trade Unions take a hard line. Unions and campaigners were successful in getting protection of people with HIV as part of disability discrimination legislation, but as with all such issues the law is only as good as how it is implemented on the ground.
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All Trade Unionists need to be continually vigilant against discrimination.
More than this, HIV has become a massive issue for workers across the word. HIV has devastated working people in many developing countries, damaging their ability to live and work and their ability to organise together to make things better. UNISON can be rightly proud of our response and our work with our sister unions internationally. This focuses on supporting Southern African unions in developing their response to HIV through the organisation Public Sector Unions fighting AIDS in southern Africa (PSUFASA).
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So today, lets remember all those who have suffered, think about those who are still dealing with HIV and re-double our support for all the work going on across the world.
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by James Anthony, a member of the Unison NEC and development activist. james-unison.blogspot.com

Gordon Brown’s World AIDS Day message

The African Children’s Choir today made a stop off at Number 10 today to mark World AIDS Day…and were really really cool!! You can hear them by visiting http://africanchildrenschoir.com/

The event was hosted by Gordon Brown & Glenys Kinnock. Please have a look at the PM’s message for World AIDS Day below.

“Over the last ten years, we have invested nearly three million pounds in targeted domestic prevention work and Britain has some of the best treatment and care services in the world.

“But there is no room for complacency. More than a quarter of people with HIV don’t know they have it because they haven’t been tested. And people living with HIV still often face prejudice.”