Trade Unions are vital partners abroad as well as at home

There can’t be many Labour blogs today that aren’t discussing the relationship between trade unions and the Labour Party.

Much of this espouses the vital role that unions play in this country, supporting members at work. However the role of trade unions is not something that springs to mind when you think of international development. But ,when you look at the key policy themes that the Labour Campaign for International Development work around, e.g. responsible capitalism, decent working conditions and quality public services, you can see that trade unions are central to all of these issues.

Decent jobs, with fair pay and safe and healthy working conditions are key to supporting individuals and their families out of poverty. When Tories and others on the right decry aid dependency, you would think they would support that vital work.  Our experience through industrialisation here in the UK and around the world is that the best way to improve working conditions and pay is through collective bargaining through independent trade unions.  But all too often trade unions are restricted rather than supported, to the extreme in places like Columbia or the Philippines where union leaders are murdered for standing up for their members.

Trade unions are also vital in the provision of quality public services.  A poignant example is in health services, which often rely on too few staff who are under-paid and over-worked. Often,  nurses will go straight from the day shift to the night shift in order to earn enough money to be able to feed their families.  The development of trade unions in countries like Malawi has helped health workers come together and both improve their conditions and the services they can provide to their patients. UK union UNISON has funded work to develop the capacity of the National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives in Malawi, allowing them to support their members particularly in the context of such a high prevalence of HIV. Trade unions are also a vital ally in tackling issues of corruption and transparency in public services and in Government.

UNISON’s International Development Fund has funded projects to develop public service unions in places such as India and the Philippines, as well as Malawi.  Unions often partner up to engage in this work, there is a particularly strong position within the teaching unions.

To support decent work and quality public services, the UK and DFID has the potential to make a huge difference by working with trade unions in developing countries and to promote their role as a key part of civil society. LCID has received a lot of support from trade unions and union members since our inception, whatever happens with the discussions in the wider party, we will be proud to continue that.


James Anthony is Co-Chair of LCID

TUC marks International Women’s Day with celebratory dinner

The Trade Union Congress marked the 100th International Women’s Day with a celebration of women through music, poetry, comedy and speech.

Speakers included Frances O’Grady, Maria Eagle, Bonnie Greer and Hariyatu Bangura, an inspirational women’s leader for the Western Region of Sierra Leone Teacher’s Union.

The evening jumped between hip hop, soul, poetry, an ironing board keyboard and the charming comedy of Josie Long in a surprisingly fluid manner. Despite being a celebration it was clear the day was not simply about celebrating women’s progress but also a day to look at what still needs to be achieved in both the developed and developing world.

There seems to be a general consensus in the media and popular opinion that equality now exists and that the women’s movement is a thing of the past. Events like International Women’s Day draw attention to the fact that not only do women still have far to go but that even these basic rights many women take for granted do not extend to many parts of the world.

It is not a coincidence that one in three women across the world will be raped, sexually abused or suffer domestic violence in their lifetime nor is it a coincidence that there is still a 16% gender pay gap. Gender equality leaves much to be desired and whilst I was personally inspired and encouraged by the event at the TUC I was glad there was a serious tone to the evening and a sense that this was a movement that was only just getting going.

by Lucy Inmonger, LCID

Trade Unions and Haiti

Trade unions have played a highly valuable and multifaceted role in Haiti. In many ways the nature of the response by trade unions, not only in the region but around the world and within the UK illustrates the valuable role they can play in international development. While recent newspaper reports, notably in the Times, have sought to discredit DfID’s support for trade unions, recent events underpin their ability to unite work forces around the world on an astonishing scale.

UK trade unions have responded quickly and in some measure to respond to the recent catastrophic events in Haiti. Unison for example made a pledge of £10,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee, as well as further donations to TUC Aid which will be used by trade unions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The TUC, as well as helping through its TUC Aid scheme, has moved quickly to organize a concert for Haiti which took place on the 3rd February to raise much needed funds to help with the aftermath of the earthquake.

International trade unions have also been active, largely through the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The funds given by ITUC have largely been used to give much needed humanitarian assistance to Haitian affiliate CTH, via three Dominican Republic unions which united swiftly following the earthquake: CASC-CNUS-CNTD.They collectively sent aid such as water, food and important medical supplies, as well as sending over teams to Haiti and setting up offices to help collect funds, clothing and other essential aid materials. The CTH headquarters was also turned into a refuge for affected workers and a base for the distribution of medical and aid supplies.

A further example of the type of support trade unions have been providing can been seen in the actions of solidarity organisations who sent the CTH two ambulances with staff to help deal with the devastating medical issues arising out of the earthquake.

Clearly trade unions have, in the case of Haiti, played an extremely helpful role in the aftermath of the earthquake. Moreover, these examples underline why trade unions can be so valuable to the government and why DFID supports them.

By Daniel Sleat

Allegations on TUC’s development role without foundation

Posted on Left Foot Forward on Friday

A slew of recent articles seek to undermine the important and justifiable role for the Trades Union Congress in delivering development policy.

TUCOn Monday, The Times reported that “The Government is giving the Trades Union Congress millions of pounds from its foreign aid budget to pay for the education of British trade unionists and to support advocacy work in Britain.”

The International Policy Network (IPN), who released the report on which The Times reported, claimed on Wednesday on Conservative Home that this money “was spent in the UK on activities that do not seem to have yielded any practical benefit to the poor either inside or outside of Britain.” IPN then made this following astonishing accusation:

“To make matters worse, unions that are members of the TUC represent over half the funding of the Labour Party. Since the DfID grants to the TUC come with few constraints,it is possible that DfID’s money could essentially substitute for money that would otherwise come from member unions – freeing them up to give more to the Labour Party.”

On the same post the Conservative’s shadow minister Andrew Mitchell said: “Labour have some very serious questions to answer about how they are spending aid money which is supposed to go to people in some of the poorest countries in the world.”

Left Foot Forward looks at these allegations and refutes each in turn.

Claim #1: DfID spending money in the UK is a bad thing.

The Times article clearly implies, and IPN explicitly so, that the spending of DfID money in the UK is a bad thing. There has, in fact, been a clear and transparent justification for doing so since DfID’s first White Paper in 1997 established the Building Support for Development programme (BSD) which addressed the need for an “increased public understanding of our global mutual dependence and the need for international development.” The then Secretary of State Clare Short states in the foreword the need for “an informed public opinion [to] help ensure that the UK plays its full role in generating the international political will necessary to meet the international poverty eradication targets.”

There is therefore nothing shadowy about DfID granting money to the TUC to spend in the UK – it is part of a broader strategy that includes development education and engagement with the media, businesses faith, BME and diaspora groups. The Times and IPN made much of the sentence in the BSD evaluation which said there was “little evidence regarding the effectiveness of the individual projects.” But that single sentence is a comment on the evidence sought or found, not explicitly on the project itself or the wider relationship with the TUC. The same document actually praises DFID’s work with the TUC (page 28).

Claim #2: The TUC have no expertise in development and have been given the money in a secret deal.

IPN claimed in their report ‘A Closer Union‘ that the TUC should not have received a Partnership Programmes Arrangements (PPAs), which are given by DfID to civil society organisations to achieve DfID’s objectives. They claim that “obviously [the TUC] is not an organisation that has a track record of performance in international development,” and claim that the arrangement is a “secret arrangement” because, “The terms of this grant still have not been published on the DfID website.”

IPN fail to outline why the TUC are an inappropriate partner for a project aimed at ”increasing [the] rights of workers in developing countries through greater support for and strengthened capacity of developing country trade unions.” Responding to the article in The Times, the TUC General SecretaryBrendan Barber said: “With more than six million members in the UK and strong links with fellow trade unionists in every developing country, the TUC is a sensible and appropriate partner for overseas aid.”

It is true that the TUC are not listed on the DfID web page explaining the PPAs, but this seems more likely a technical error than a conspiracy. It is however publicly listed in their project directory, and you can read the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Objectives online.

While the new MoU authorises the TUC to spend money on UK activities (as part of DfID’s Building Support for Development work above), the TUC are now rolling out their capacity building work in developing countries as part of their 2009-11 partnership with DfID – including two new funding arrangements with ITUC-Africa and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions to support their capacity to work on women’s empowerment, post-conflict resolution, the rights of migrant workers and political advocacy.

Claim #3: “DfID’s money could essentially substitute for money that would otherwise come from member unions – freeing them up to give more to the Labour Party.”

By adding claim 1 and 2 together they have made their most serious allegation, claim 3. But the sum is closer to 2 + 2 = 5. There is no evidence of any link between DfID’s work with the TUC and the funding of TUC member unions to the Labour Party.

The TUC is not affiliated to the Labour Party. The majority of unions that make up the TUC are not affiliated to the Labour Party. The majority of the unions that have received funding from DfID are not affiliated to the Labour Party either.

The TUC receive LESS under a Labour Government than they did under Major’s Conservative Government. As Brendan Barber stated in his letter to the Times, DfID’s support for the TUC has “actually, year for year, been less under the current and recent Labour governments than it was under John Major’s administration.” The TUC have received what amounts to £450,000 a year over the period 2003-11. The £2.4 million the TUC recieved for the PPA was part of a total of £90 million given to 27 organisations. DfID is doing what governments of all persuasions all over the developed world have done when they distribute small parts of their overseas aid budgets through unions. As Barber pointed out, George W. Bush’s Administration channelled $20 million a year through the US trade union movement.

Labour does actually receive money from DfID – but so do the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. DfID fund the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to develop comprehensive programmes of joint activity between UK parties and their sister parties in developing countries.

It is the Conservatives and IPN  who have some serious questions to answer.  IPM make serious allegations of the Labour Government’s links with the TUC, but are they as impartial as their status as a charity (No.CC 262982) requires? Left Foot Forward intends to investigate this further.

On Monday we reported on the Conservatives’ fixation with triviality when we examined their aid proposals. It now appears they are not only happy to associate themselves with petty issues, but slanderous ones as well.