When you get your ballot paper, first turn it over and read the other side

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This is the other side of the story. After four pages of lies and propaganda in favour of a Yes vote in the political fund ballot I have just one page to give the other side. And the other side is important.

When you get your ballot paper, first turn it over and read the other side.

There you will find the legal notice required by UK law, which, despite objections, the NUJ has been forced to include. You will be told about section 72 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which governs political fund ballots. It will make clear the reasons a union must have a political fund.

The only reasons a union needs a political fund are if it wishes to support a political party or political candidates either in public elections or within political parties.

The NUJ does not need a political fund to campaign against censorship, against broadcasting bans or against freelances being taxed at source. It does not need a political fund to campaign for better rights at work, good pensions, in support of freedom of information of for any other of the NUJ’s current or likely campaigns. And northern organiser Miles Barter can continue to urge members to write to their MPs supporting striking journalists, as he has done over the past few years. In fact, if the NUJ wants to host a reception in Parliament to which MPs of all parties are invited, it can, without a political fund.

The NUJ only needs a political fund if it wants to spend money supporting one political party over another or backing a particular candidate within a political party. Cross-party work is not covered by the act.

Don’t be bullied into voting Yes because of scare stories that the union will fall foul of the law. The one case the union uses to make this threat occurred in 1987 – more than 16 years ago. And The Journalist got the facts wrong about that case too. It reported that the public service union Nalgo’s “Make People Matter” campaign was judged an attempt to get the public to vote against the Conservative Party but claimed “even though that was not stated”. In the FAQ section, The Journalist said: “Courts have ruled that campaigns critical of the government, even if no party is mentioned, can be construed as party-political.”

This is an extract from The Times law report at the time: “Nalgo contented that the purposes of the campaign were of a general nature to persuade people that public services were a good thing. The plaintiff had to show that the main purpose of the literature was to persuade people not to vote for the Conservative party. Each leaflet referred to the Conservative party and the implementation of the policies and did not contain anything that was critical of any other party or government. Having given a one-sided view they invited the electorate to think and then vote. The overwhelming inference from the leaflets was to influence the public to vote against the Conservative party. Another factor was that no leaflets had been prepared for use after the campaign which was hard to tie up with a campaign which was supposed to run a full year unallied to influencing the vote. The indication was that the main purpose was to influence voting.”

The Nalgo campaign was quite clearly a party-political campaign aimed at getting people not to vote Conservative. And every leaflet named the political party.

The NUJ campaigns on issues, not party politics. Even when the Conservative government rushed through changes in employment law to spite Dave Wilson’s success in the courts, many Tory MPs opposed the move, including TGWU member Peter Bottomley who defied a three-line whip to vote against the government. No party can guarantee NUJ support on freedom of information or the BBC, or on almost anything. We must say what we believe in and get as widespread support as we can, not kowtow to political parties.

And we won’t be alone. According to the Certification Officer’s 2003 report, only 32 unions had political funds last year. A 33rd has since voted to establish one. But the TUC claims 71 unions as members and the Certification officer lists 197 trade unions as currently registered.

Unless you actively want the NUJ to support a political party, vote against this proposal – don’t abstain, ignore it or forget about it, otherwise the yes voters will win. Only a NO vote guarantees the NUJ’s independence.

Section 72 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992
(1) The political objects to which this Chapter applies are the expenditure of money

(a) on any contribution to the funds of, or on the payment of expenses incurred directly or indirectly by, a political party;

(b) on the provision of any service or property for use by or on behalf of any political party;

(c) in connection with the registration of electors, the candidature of any person, the selection of any candidate or the holding of any ballot by the union in connection with any election to a political office;

(d) on the maintenance of any holder of a political office;

(e) on the holding of any conference or meeting by or on behalf of a political party or of any other meeting the main purpose of which is the transaction of business in connection with a political party;

(f) on the production, publication or distribution of any literature,

document, film, sound recording or advertisement the main purpose of which is to persuade people to vote for a political party or candidate or to persuade them not to vote for a political party or candidate.

(2) Where a person attends a conference or meeting as a delegate or otherwise as a participator in the proceedings, any expenditure incurred in connection with his attendance as such shall, for the purposes of subsection (1)(e), be taken to be expenditure incurred on the holding of the conference or meeting.

(3) In determining for the purposes of subsection (1) whether a trade union has incurred expenditure of a kind mentioned in that subsection, no account shall be taken of the ordinary administrative expenses of the union.

(4) In this section

"candidate" means a candidate for election to a political office and includes a prospective candidate;

"contribution", in relation to the funds of a political party, includes any fee payable for affiliation to, or membership of, the party and any loan made to the party;

"electors" means electors at an election to a political office;

"film" includes any record, however made, of a sequence of visual images, which is capable of being used as a means of showing that sequence as a moving picture;

"local authority" means a local authority within the meaning of section 270 of the [1972. c.70] Local Government Act 1972 or section 235 of the [1973 c.65 ] Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973; and

"political office" means the office of member of Parliament, member of the European Parliament or member of a local authority or any position within a political party.

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