Article from the July 2004 edition, Socialist Voice

Firefighters break link with Labour

THE FIRE Brigades Union have broken the link with New Labour. This historic decision was taken at the union's conference held at the start of June.

The motion to disaffiliate was moved by local Socialist Party member, Tony Maguire, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Region of the union. In an impassioned speech, which received the only standing ovation of the conference, Tony clearly spelt out the reasons why the FBU should break completely with New Labour:

"Our party, the party that we nurtured through the Thatcher years, and the party trade unions gave millions of pounds to, has stabbed us not the back but in the heart. Every single FBU branch in Northern Ireland has told us to put clear blue water between us and the sycophantic, cronyistic ideologues who call themselves the Labour Party."

"Our choice", Tony went on, "is whether to stay in the Labour Party, docile and tame, or leave and fight like tigers for what these class traitors have denied us...the future starts here and the future starts have the power, you can do it."

The motion was opposed by the Executive who supported a weaker proposal that the union should continue with its affiliation at a reduced level, but that it should also be free to give political donations to other parties and candidates. The standing ovation given to Tony Maguire left little doubt about the mood of the majority of delegates and the motion to disaffiliate outright was carried by a massive 35,105 votes for to 14,611 against.

The FBU had been one of the founders of Labour and had been affiliated to the party for 86 years. In recent years it has donated around 50,000 to Labour funds. The decision to disaffiliate is recognition that New Labour is no longer, in any sense, a workers' party. It is now a pro business party with a right wing political agenda no different from that of the Tories.

The FBU is the first union to vote for disaffiliation, but other unions still linked to Blair are under increasing pressure from their membership to break the link. The rail union, the RMT, is also outside party, expelled for deciding to give some of its political funding to other parties, including the Scottish Socialist Party. The day before the FBU decision, the Conference of the postal worker's union, the CWU decided that it too would break with Labour if it did not give a commitment in its election manifesto not to privatise the postal service.

The FBU decision is a huge step forward and should be followed by other unions. This would open the way for an initiative to build a new party of the working class to fill the ground vacated by New Labour. In Northern Ireland there is an urgent need for such an initiative.

As Tony Maguire explained to Socialist Voice after the vote: "The FBU has not rejected the ideas of political trade unionism but we do believe that we should be supporting a political party that represents the interests of unions, communities and young people, not a party that has clearly been hijacked by big business. I believe that the time has come for a new working class party to be formed, one that is really based on solidarity and socialism."

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