FBU and ASLEF to vote on disaffiliating from Labour

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Two unions are set to vote at their respective conferences in the coming days to sever ties with the party amid a growing rift between Labor under Sir Keir Starmer and the union movement.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and ASLEF, which represents train drivers, will both vote to leave Labour.

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Why does the FBU vote to leave Labor?

The Labor Party could suffer a major setback as two of its union partners could vote to sever ties with the party.

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A motion from the FBU’s Merseyside branch will be presented to the unions’ conference today (13 May).

The motion says the FBU should sever ties with Labor as the party “appears to have sought to purge itself of socialists, actively distanced itself from workers and sought to ally itself with big business”.

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The resolution said: “The conference is no longer convinced that the aims and intentions of the Labor Party reflect those of the FBU. Against this background, the conference is calling on the FBU to split nationwide from the Labor Party with immediate effect.”

A Labor source said Keir Starmer’s decision to work with the Sun newspaper also likely contributed to the decision to table the resignation bid.

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In a statement released ahead of the conference, the FBU Executive Council said: “The FBU has made no secret of our disagreements with the current Labor leadership on a range of issues, including backtracking on radical policies; resignation from Bakers Union, unfair suspensions and expulsions; Currying favor with the right-wing media, admitting a Tory MP into the party and removing the whip from Jeremy Corbyn.”

“Belonging does not mean supporting every Labor policy, but we must remain committed to these structures if we are to give Westminster firefighters a voice.”

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The vote is scheduled to take place today (May 13) and is likely to be relatively close.

The FBU is considered a left-wing union because it has backed candidates on the left of the party in internal elections and has actively campaigned for policies such as the Green New Deal.

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This could see members voting with their feet over concerns that the party under Starmer has shifted to the right and, most importantly, does not maintain strong ties to the labor movement.

However, a range of views are represented within the union, including a significant number who may support the motion because they believe the FBU should be non-political.

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A union source told Mazic News that “there are a significant number of members who believe that we should not belong to any political party” and that the issue is dividing the membership.

The source said they believe the motion was driven “by some officials’ dislike of Starmer leadership, rather than pressure they are receiving from rank and file members.”

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Speaking to PoliticsHome, FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said it “makes sense for unions to fight for ideas that improve workers’ lives within a party rooted in workers’ representation”.

Why will the train drivers’ union ASLEF vote on leaving?

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Another union with historic links to Labor will debate and then vote on leaving next week.

Around 80 delegates from the ASLEF union are gathering for a conference in Bournemouth from Monday (16 May).

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One of the motions under discussion is to leave Labour, with the outcome of the vote expected late Monday or possibly the following day.

A motion to remain affiliated with Labor was passed by a vote of 55 to 25 at last year’s ASLEF conference.

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Union sources indicate that while leadership may not be entirely satisfied with the party’s leadership under Starmer, there is a sense that working within the party will always be better for members.

Union general secretary Mick Whelan told Mazic News: “ASLEF is a democracy and this is a matter for our members and our delegates will decide one way or another next week.”

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The ASLEF boss has generally remained more neutral than a number of union leaders who have publicly criticized aspects of Keir Starmer’s leadership or even threatened to withdraw funding.

However, after Labor colleague Lord Mandelson, who is reportedly a key adviser to the Labor leadership, said in an interview that “hard left factions linked to the unions must go”, Mr Whelan wrote to the Labor Leader.

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In the letter, Mr Whelan said the comments had “raised significant concern and anger”.

He wrote: “The road to unity cannot lie in steps to reduce union ties, and the road to country conquest cannot lie in distancing the party from the collective voice of millions of workers.

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“I would like to ask you to speak publicly shortly to make it clear that you disapprove of these comments and that there will be no attempts to break or dilute the union liaison. The union liaison is one of our most effective tools for reconnecting with workers who have turned their backs on us. That is not an obstacle.”

Although the motion was primarily motivated by opposition to Labour’s new direction under Starmer, there are a number of different reasons why some delegates might support it.

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Some ASLEF members believe that the union should not be affiliated with any party, while some would prefer to forge closer ties with the other parties, particularly the SNP.

While much of the union’s left-wing members may have some doubts about Starmer’s leadership, many will likely still support ASLEF’s historical links with the party.

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A source compared the decision to the Eurosceptics’ decision to vote Remain in the EU referendum.

They said: “A lot of people who didn’t particularly like the EU still looked at this vote and thought it would be better to be in the tent trying to make changes than outside of it and it may be that the members do the same decision here”.

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What is the connection between the Labor Party and the unions?

As a party that emerged from the trade union movement, Labor has generally maintained a strong relationship with unions through membership.

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There are currently 11 unions affiliated with the party, which provide funds and resources to Labour.

The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) voted to leave the Labor Party at last year’s party conference.

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Of the three largest unions, Unison, Unite and GMB, both Unite and GMB have threatened to cut ties with the party, with GMB already cutting funding from Labor in London over a dispute.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham has warned she could cut the party’s funding over a dispute between Coventry City Council and Unite’s refuse workers, who are currently on strike over a salary offer.

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