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Money in the Labour movement

November 5th, 2009 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · No Comments · Politics

Money is as important to the various organisations within the Labour movement as it is to any capitalist entity.  Well, maybe not exactly: it is not chased or accumulated for what it is, but it is very much appreciated for what it can do, and necessary.  No point having hundreds of willing volunteers to deliver leaflets if nobody can pay to print them up, for example. It does lead to some interesting and, seemingly, pointless situations though.Tonight I was at a constituency party meeting.  Before the proper meeting started we were addressed by a couple of representatives from the CWU who talked about the strike, modernisation, pensions and other matters.  Afterwards there was a whip-round amongst those present, to which was added some donations from a couple of the branches and from my own union.  The lads from the CWU went away with about £300 for their members affected by loss of earnings.

So there we had individual members, branches and a different union making a contribution to the CWU – or actually not to the union itself but directly to its members.  I’m sure that if Unite members were in a high profile dispute the CWU members would make some sort of financial gesture.  And I am sure the CWU have received similar help from Usdaw, from the GMB and from other unions. I’m also sure that the CWU and some of its members will give some financial support to the local Labour party, beyond the political levy, as the elections get nearer.

Even during the same meeting there was something in the Treasurer’s report about a small cheque arriving from the CWU.  Probably an affiliation fee or something.   At other times you will have the Labour party paying rent to the Labour Club for the use of its rooms for meetings and the Labour Club will make donations to the party for campaigns, and there are many, many other organisations of different types either paying each other directly or in transative configurations.

It can appear very incestuous, and it must cross everybody’s mind every now and then that maybe it all evens out somehow, and that if that is the case why don’t all the individual organisations just keep their money and the net effect would be the same?

One response to that would be that each organisation has its own peaks and troughs of need.  So a Labour party branch might support a union’s members when they are under pressure, and later on that union might support that part, or another part of the Labour party during an election campaign when they need funds more.

But the real response is that these donations, affiliations and other transactions server a sort of meta-purpose.  They help to foster a spirit of inter-connectedness, inter-dependence and mutual co-operation.  Comradeship if you like.  This is why there is a Labour movement and not just a party.  These sums of money, sometimes little more than token amounts, are visible ways in which the different parts keep re-affirming their mutual support for each other.

I remember when we were trying to launch a local UAF branch and several organisations like union branches, Labour branches and constituencies affiliated, sometimes topping up the small affiliation fee with a donation.  The local Conservative Association could not affiliate because, they said, it was prohibited by their constitution to pay money to such organisations to affiliate.

This is not a criticism of the local Tories, who on a personal level have been very supportive of the UAF’s intentions.  It is just an observation that their institutions are set up in a way that discourages the sort of sense of shared purpose that the Labour movement actively encourages.

It may sometimes feel that half the time I spend in meetings of union branch meetings, party branch meetings, constituency meetings and pressure group meetings is spent discussing and agreeing small donations – that I go to one meeting where the Chair or Treasurer announces the receipt of a cheque that I voted to send at a different meeting the week before…  but I feel good about that.

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