On Twitter, the Conservative Party, along with its party chairman, Nadhim Zahawi, and various other MPs, have suggested Labour chose to vote against legislation on strike action because of its “union paymasters”. A graphic accompanying the tweet shows Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in the pocket of Mick Lynch, head of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT).
Many Twitter users noted that the RMT is no longer affiliated with Labour and suggested that this means the union no longer provides the party with any funding.
While the RMT no longer sits on Labour’s National Executive Committee and is therefore unable to influence policy decisions at this level, the union has in recent years donated some money to the Labour Party and to individual MPs.
However, the amounts are small compared to the sums donated by other unions which are affiliated with Labour.
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Labour and unions
The Labour Party was founded by Scottish trade unionist Keir Hardie and has historically been heavily dependent on the funding it receives from trade unions.
During the 2019 general election campaign, the Labour Party registered donations of £5.4 million, of which just over £5 million came from trade unions. It also received £160,000 from individuals and £200,000 from companies.
By comparison, the Conservative Party registered donations of £19.3 million, of which £13.2 million came from individuals and £5.9 million came from companies. No funding was received from trade unions.
A significant proportion of Labour’s funding comes from trade unions that are “affiliated” with the Labour Party, meaning they pay ongoing “affiliation fees” of £3 per union member in addition to any donations they wish to make.
Representatives from affiliated unions also sit on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) where their role is to “provide strategic direction for the Party as a whole and to work in partnership with the Party’s representatives in Parliament.”
Affiliates also receive a percentage of voting rights at conferences, based on the size of their membership. They are also entitled to submit nominations for key positions within the party including leader, deputy leader and NEC members.
At present there are 11 trade unions affiliated with the Labour Party, but the RMT is not among them and does not have a representative on the NEC.
We asked Labour if it would like to comment on the relationship between the party and trade unions, and the influence that unions have, but did not receive a response.
Labour and the RMT
The affiliation between Labour and the RMT lasted more than 100 years before coming to an end in 2004. The union was invited to reaffiliate in 2018 but declined to do so. Instead, the union chose to align itself with the party but remain unaffiliated.
This meant it encouraged its members to be active in the party and allowed its branches and regional councils to “use their political funds to back Labour at elections, whilst Labour continues to support key RMT policies on transport and trade union rights.”
The RMT continues to make donations to Labour, although these are small relative to Labour’s total income.
The RMT has previously stated that its lack of affiliation to the Labour Party means it is “deliberately misleading” to describe them as “paymasters” to the party.
A spokesperson for the Conservative Party told Full Fact: “The Labour Party, Constituency Labour Parties and Labour MPs have pocketed nearly a quarter of a million pounds of RMT cash since 2010, with the most recent donation coming as recently as 2021.”
The Conservative Party cited records from the Electoral Commission which show that between 2010 and September 2022, the RMT donated £243,325 to the central Labour Party and constituency Labour parties (CLPs). The most recent donation to an MP was £17,482 to Ian Mearns in 2021 for his role as chair of the RMT’s parliamentary group.
However, a wider search of the Electoral Commission data, conducted by Full Fact, found donations from the RMT to the Labour Party actually amounted to closer to £320,000 between 2010 and 2022, not including donations to individual MPs.
By comparison, the same data shows Labour had received a total of £142 million of donations from all trade unions since 2010, not including donations to individual MPs.
Since Sir Keir Starmer became Labour leader in April 2020, Electoral Commission records show that Labour has received donations of at least £17 million from trade unions, none of which came from the RMT, excluding payments made to individual MPs.
Full Fact also contacted Mr Zahawi for comment.