Why are trade unions globally affiliated to political parties?

In many countries around the world, there exists a political party that would call itself “Labour”, or “Workers”. Chances are the parties have affiliations with trade unions or trade union movements.

Why do they do that?

Trade unions are creatures of industrial politics. They need political momentum, power and ground support for them to conduct their activities and operations. The basis of affiliation is to improve the standard of living for members, through affiliation trade unions make use of political action as well as industrial action to achieve outcomes for paying members.

The association with a political party also allows an industrial organisation the venue of pursuing its aims for the benefit of members along more than one path: they can achieve industrial goals, economic goals, expansion, growth and use the Party’s brand for legitimacy.

All over the world trade unions and their associated confederations work very closely with politicians, because the reality is: you’re not going to be able to get anything done without political backing. Some trade unions even contribute funds directly to their affiliated parties.

(General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress of the UK, Frances O’Grady)

These relationships have seldom been smooth sailing. The Conservative Party of the UK have had a rough history with trade unions. They believe it is unfair for trade unions to hold too much power and have sought to limit their power, though sometimes unsuccessfully.

During the 1979 election, Thatcher’s Conservative Party said one of the first tasks was restoring “a fair balance between the rights and duties of the trade union movement.” It was Thatcher’s view that British labor laws were in need of reform because “militant” pro-union legislation enacted by the Labour Party had allowed unions to bargain for wages and working conditions that made British firms uncompetitive in an increasingly global economy.

So when some people criticise the NTUC for affiliations with the PAP and suggest that “no one else in the world does this”, they’re not getting their facts straight. Many other countries have far more intricate relationships with their Parties than us, it makes NTUC’s symbiotic relationship with the PAP look like they are acquaintances more than friends.

 

 

About the author

Tay Leong Tan

Tay Leong Tan is a collective of 3 writers. Tay, Leong and Tan. (Who were you expecting?!) We are enthusiastic about labour issues, economics and current affairs in particular.

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