A trade union is about to start debating its affiliation with the Labour Party. Why? Because it feels “further away from having a political voice” in the party “than ever”.
The BFAWU: everybody off?
On Saturday 9 January, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) tweeted:
Starting Tuesday we will be debating our link with @UKLabour across our regions this will be followed by a survey of our membership on our historic relationship with the Labour Party. We are still committed to working with Socialists to elect a socalist Government.
— BFAWU (@bfawu1) January 9, 2021
The background to BFAWU’s announcement makes it clear where the problem lies.
“Cause for concern”
In November, its general secretary Ronnie Draper wrote a blog piece titled Who Exactly Are Labour Representing? It announced the start of a consultation on the BFAWU’s affiliation with the party. In it, Draper said:
The political direction of the Labour Party in recent months, along with the promotion of MPs who worked tirelessly to ensure that the Party lost both the 2017 and 2019 elections, has given members cause for concern. There is also a clear agenda to alienate any MP considered to be supportive of socialism and move them to the backbenches.
For example, Lisa Nandy MP was part of the so-called 2016 ‘coup’ against the then-leader Jeremy Corbyn. Starmer promoted her to shadow foreign secretary. And of course, he also kept the removal of the whip from Corbyn. This resulted in a swathe of motions from Constituency Labour Parties in support of the latter.
Draper also highlighted other problems with Starmer’s leadership: from the party’s ‘backing all the way’ of the Tory government’s “disastrous” coronavirus response, its propping-up of landlords, not tenants, and the leaked report into what Draper called the “deliberate sabotage” of Corbyn and Labour’s election bids. This is aside from the Labour Party’s current “purge” of dissenting CLPs.
No political voice?
Overall, Draper said:
Sir Keir Starmer was supposedly elected as a unity candidate, yet his idea of ‘bringing people together’ seems to have amounted to nothing more than deliberate, vindictive and divisive attacks on those regarded as being on the ‘socialist’ side of the Party. Ironic, given the fact that Labour is supposed to be at heart, a socialist endeavour.
And he concluded that:
As a Union, we have been involved with representatives of the Labour Party across three centuries. Indeed, the first recorded meeting was with Keir Hardie in 1893, following a demonstration of journeymen bakers in London… However, despite the importance of Trade Unions and the inevitable current and post-Covid economic plight heading towards working people, today, we feel further away from having a political voice than ever.
So, on Tuesday 12 January, the consultation process looks set to begin.
Starmer: fomenting discontent
If the BFAWU’s membership does decide to disaffiliate, it won’t be the first union to voice its displeasure at Starmer. Unite the Union has already reduced the money it pays Labour. And in November 2020, the Mirror reported that the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and Communication Workers Union (CWU) were thinking of doing similar. Both the FBU and CWU have previously disaffiliated or cut funding from the party under Tony Blair’s leadership.
The BFAWU regularly gives thousands of pounds to Labour. So a disaffiliation would be a financial loss for the party. But moreover, the union has been at the heart of notable, grassroots campaigns for workers’ rights, such as the “McStrike” campaign for fair pay and conditions at McDonalds. If it abandons Labour, it’s a sign of the growing disconnect between the party hierarchy and the real world for working class people.