From the TUC

Right wingers take aim at union work on international development

22 May 2010, by in International

They’re at it again. No sooner has Conservative Andrew Mitchell taken up his post as International Development Secretary than right wingers are urging him to cut funding to unions. A right wing think-tanker, welcoming his decision to stop spending money on promoting awareness and understanding of international development in the UK, used two really sensible union projects as examples of why this sort of expenditure was ripe for cutting.

Apart from the questionable wisdom of advocating that British people would be better off knowing less about international development (and why their tax money is being spent on it), taking pot shots at union use of such funds is just old-fashioned union-bashing. It’s notably not at all what Andrew Mitchell himself has advocated – when this so-called think-tank (too barmy even for Guido Fawkes!) attacked union spending on development before the election, he responded by saying that free trade unions in developing countries were precisely the sort of organisations that should be funded.

But the Tory right, disempowered by the electorate’s failure to deliver a right-wing majority in Parliament, and then by the coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats, is clearly yearning for a return to Thatcherite extremism.

The Daily Telegraph web piece said that “Trade unions have regularly benefited from these ‘awareness’ funds, as part of a wider, cosy relationship they enjoy with DFID” – well, if regular means once or twice a year, then yes, that’s true – but unions have received only a tiny fraction of the money DFID has spent on the entirely sensible policy of telling the electorate what international development is and why their money is being spent on it.

And the two projects singled out for criticism are hardly good examples of wasteful favouritism. First, despite the frequent implication that this money is going to Labour affiliated unions, neither the NUT nor Prospect are: both are fiercely politically independent. Second, the NUT project is aimed at ensuring teachers are better able to teach their pupils about an important area of public expenditure and the global economy (it’s arguable whether such projects should be funded by DFID or DCFS, but it’s pretty unarguable that this is useful stuff). And the Prospect project is about encouraging their members in multinational companies to work with their employers to develop practices in developing countries that reduce poverty: surely precisely the sort of free market, voluntarist approaches to combating global poverty that Conservatives would support?

Prospect General Secretary Paul Noon commented on the article that:

The Prime Minister has emphasised the value and importance of civil society working to improve the quality of life for all. That is exactly what Prospect’s Development Awareness project is doing.  We are working not only with our own members but also employers in the public and private sectors to contribute to the Millennium Development Goals. Specifically we are working to try and improve employment conditions in the developing world through responsible procurement and engaging with supply chains to improve their practices. This work makes a real difference to people’s lives.

And he added that, using their own money,

Prospect members are also supporting a water and irrigation farming project in Zimbabwe to give 25,000 people in the rural Gutu district of Masvingo province a steady supply of food throughout the year. Support has also been provided so that 700 Mayan girl children forced into domestic work can access health care and education in Guatemala City.  This work is core to my union because it springs from the values of fairness and equality that underpin everything we do. I am proud that Prospect members choose to contribute to civic society in this way.

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