From the TUC

Right-wingers attack union international development work

06 Sep 2009, by in International, Politics

The gloves may be off over international development. For several years, the Conservatives have shadowed Labour’s excellent record on overseas aid – in particular agreeing to maintain the policy of reaching the UN target for overseas aid volumes of 0.7% of Gross National Income, even though overseas aid was cut under the last Conservative Government. This was all part of re-branding the Conservative Party as a ‘nice, not nasty, party’.

But last week, the Tory bloggers and think tanks have gone on the offensive, attacking the money which the Department for International Development (a Labour invention, don’t forget – under the Tories, overseas aid was a subsection of the Foreign Office) gives to NGOs. But they still aren’t keen to appear that nasty, so Christian Aid, Save the Children, CAFOD and so on were mostly ignored in the blogs and the press releases. The nasty-right concentrated their attack on … yes, you guessed it, the trade unions!

Iain Dale, doyen of the nasty-right blogosphere, condemned DFID for

£1.2 million given to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) since 2003 for activities including: lobbying, hiring new staff and an “international buffet and wine” event to celebrate “International Women’s Day” in the UK. DfID also paid the TUC to hold lessons in how to apply for DfID funds.

And Caroline Boin, Project Director at the International Policy Network, blogged at ConservativeHome, also fixated on our eating habits:

Many recipients are Labour-friendly groups like the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which has received £1.2m from the Department for International Development (DfID) to fund its own trade union campaigns and buffets in Westminster.

This all came from an International Policy Network report called Fake Aid: How foreign aid is being used to support the self-serving political activities of NGOs.

The press release announcing the study also concentrates on that buffet (Caroline got the location wrong in a desperate attempt to portray the event as tainted by influence-peddling and Westminster sleaze: maybe no one would be so worried by “Holborn buffets”). So, it’s worth mentioning, perhaps only in passing, that the TUC’s annual International Women’s Day reception is funded from the TUC’s own subscription income  and from commercial sponsorship. Note also, of course, that IPN and Iain Dale put International Women’s Day in inverted commas, in a derogatory attempt to suggest that anything that feminist must be bogus – very ‘nasty party’ indeed.

So what’s going on? Well, firstly, it’s really revealing that these ‘nasty party’ hacks have focused on DFID assistance to the trade union movement, despite the fact that DFID gives nearly £200 million a year to civil society organisations in the UK, and less than 1% of it goes to trade unions. Most of it goes to respectable charities that Conservative Party members and voters support too – so while the nasty-right would be happy to see all international development spending abandoned and all international development charities scrapped, they know better than to say so. But they consider trade unions to be fair game.

Will any of this affect what a Conservative Government does? The TUC now receives slightly more from DFID than we did from the Overseas Development Agency (part of the FCO) when the last Conservative Government was in power – but until this year, Labour in Government was actually giving unions LESS than the Conservatives did. And right-wing Governments the world over have funded their trade union movements’ international development efforts far more generously than the UK Government has done. Noted Trotskyist (sic) George W Bush gave the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center over £10 million a year, for example.

And Conservatives do themselves benefit from Government money for international development, of course (strange, not a peep of criticism about that in the IPN’s ‘report’ – is the IPN really as non-partisan as it claims on its website?) In 2006 and 2007, the tax-funded Westminster Foundation for Democracy gave the Conservative Party over £1.4 million – more in two single years than the TUC has received in six. Any complaints from Iain Dale, Conservative Home or the International Policy Network about that? It does not appear so.

3 Responses to Right-wingers attack union international development work

  1. Matt (not a Tory)
    Sep 8th 2009, 10:31 am

    So what actual international development work is the TUC doing with this money? Pointing out that other organisations got money too, and that the Tories gave money too doesn’t justify why the TUC should be getting DFID money in the first place.

  2. Owen Tudor

    Owen Tudor
    Sep 8th 2009, 10:46 am

    Sorry, I got caught up in responding to the specific criticisms (and the underlying political direction of the attacks)! If anyone wants to see the extent of TUC work on international development, go to which takes you to all sorts of reports on what we are doing (not limited to work that DFID funds).

    Essentially, we have in the past used DFID funds to lever up the involvement of unions in international development work – so although we haven’t run programmes in developing countries with the money provided by DFID under the Strategic Grant Agreement and the Strategic Framework Partnership Agreement, that money has been used to increase the amount of unions’ own money (ie union members’ money) that is spent on development. We have also run one project overseas with DFID money, in Sierra Leone, and you can find out the latest on that programme at

    The Programme Partnership Arrangement that we have just signed with DFID for this year and next WILL allow us to run programmes overseas, including a programme just started in Nigeria on workplace interventions on HIV/AIDS. There is a brief note on that at

    We would certainly admit to running campaigns both here and globally, on issues such as trade, workers’ rights, quality public services and so on. These are essential components of international development, because (a) we don’t believe the current global economic system has worked for development, and (b) we believe that international development is about empowering people in developing countries to determine their own solutions, not just handing out money. And we would strongly defend the work we and DFID do to inform people in Britain (in our case trade unionists) about international development, because people need to know what their tax money is being used for, and they need to become more engaged in international development themselves to make it more effective (eg Prospect, one of our affiliated unions, is encouraging members to negotiate better corporate social responsibility performance by the companies they work for).

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