29 May 2009

British National Party accused of hostile takeover of trade union

The British National Party has been accused of executing a “hostile takeover” of a trade union that subsequently accepted a £5,000 undeclared donation from Nick Griffin, the leader of the party.

Clive Potter, a founder of Solidarity, the nationalist trade union, told The Times that he and other members of its executive were ousted by allies of Mr Griffin because they wanted to remain independent of the BNP.

In documents to the Certification Office, the regulator of trade unions, former members of the executive claim that the union has been hijacked by “disaffected former officials and an outside political party”.

They said that the union had been subjected to “hostile attacks from unauthorised former officials and outside elements, namely the British National Party”. The split raises questions about Solidarity’s links to the BNP as it has been previously accused of, but has denied, being a front for the party. Many members also belong to the BNP and its president, Adam Walker, is a candidate for the party in the forthcoming European election.

The Times revealed on Thursday that Solidarity was the recipient of a £5,000 donation, originally sent to Mr Griffin, that is under review by the Electoral Commission. Mr Griffin admitted that he did not inform the authorities about the donation, which appeared to be from a political supporter, although he paid it into his own account before transferring it to Solidarity. Donations of more than £1,000 to individual party members must be declared if they are for political use.

Mr Griffin said that he gave the money to the union because the donor wanted to remain anonymous and he believed that he would have had to declare it if passed to the BNP.

Patrick Harrington, general secretary of Solidarity, a former organiser for the National Front and a friend of Mr Griffin, told The Times that the union was completely independent of the BNP. Mr Harrington, who is not a member of the BNP, said that Mr Potter’s accusations should be dismissed as they were from a “disgruntled former official”.

Although the alleged takeover occurred in 2007, it has not been aired publicly. Several disputes from it will be decided in a hearing next month by the Certification Officer.

Mr Potter, a former member of the BNP, told The Times that he helped to set up Solidarity in 2005 as a “mass nationalist trade union” that was to be independent of any political party. “If it isn’t independent then it fails. Unfortunately, as I found out later, Mr Griffin had other ideas,” he said.

After a series of disagreements with Mr Harrington, and following what he claims was interference from Mr Griffin, Mr Potter was ousted in 2007 along with members of the executive who supported him. He will claim that his removal was “unconstitutional”. Mr Harrington denied any impropriety and said that elections to the union’s executive were held properly.As a result of the split, two separate trade unions, both known as Solidarity, have been operating since 2007. One branch, which is run by Mr Harrington and accepted the donation from Mr Griffin, has acted for people who have been dismissed from their jobs because of association with the BNP.

Mr Potter said that his branch operates on “paper only” as it has no money — its bank account was frozen after the acrimony between the warring factions. He said that as a believer in BNP ideals but an opposer of Mr Griffin, he wanted a return to the “status quo” in leadership of the union.

In the final council by-election before next week’s county and European Parliament polls, the BNP pushed the Conservatives into third place. Labour’s vote held up in North Ormesby and Bramble Farm, Middlesbrough, where the far Right won 19.1 per cent of the vote. That would not be enough for it to win in the North East Euro constituency, which has only three seats. The BNP says its best chance for a European win is in the North West, where Nick Griffin is running. He predicts the party could win up to six seats and claims it is spending £500,000 on a national campaign. The BNP is fielding 450 candidates for the local elections and 66 for the European Parliament, at least one for every constituency in England, Scotland and Wales.

Money talks

— Any trade union that intends to spend money on political objectives must set up a separate political fund. This arose from the Trade Union Act 1913

— Before a political fund can be established, the union must ballot all its members. A simple majority of members is enough to pass the resolution

— The certification officer must approve both the ballot and the political fund rules before they are put to the vote. This ensures that there is a fair voting process

— The political fund can be spent on both affiliated political parties and more general campaigning. Each union publishes accounts of its expenditure to the certification officer. These are available to all members of the union

— Any union member can choose to be exempted from the political fund at any time. There can be no discrimination against members who opt for exemption Unions must review their decisions to have a political fund every ten years. This is done by ballot

Source: Certification Office

The Times

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