Socialist Worker

Affiliating to Labour won't stop the Tories

Issue No. 2477

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has spoken out against fire cuts - but will unions affiliating to Labour stop the Tory assault?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has spoken out against fire cuts - but will unions affiliating to Labour stop the Tory assault? (Pic: Bob Peters/flickr)

Thousands  of people are determined to defend Jeremy Corbyn and his anti-austerity policies from the Labour right’s attacks and backroom plotting.

Many are joining the Labour Party to support Corbyn’s project. 

More than 180,000 have joined Labour, including 17,000 who left in disgust at Tony Blair’s neoliberalism and warmongering.

The pressure is also on unions that disaffiliated under New Labour to come back into the fold.  

The FBU firefighters’ union has recalled its conference on 27 November to decide on reaffiliating. It’s likely that, after 11 years of separation and supporting left wing alternatives, the FBU will go back into Labour.  

This will bolster those inside other left wing unions arguing for reaffiliation. 

Tony Blair’s New Labour shafted ordinary firefighters and their union, even bringing in the army to break a walkout in 2002/03. In 2004, the union finally broke with the Labour Party and shifted to the left.

Now two longstanding members of the FBU’s parliamentary group are the leader of the opposition and shadow chancellor. 

As FBU leader Matt Wrack said, “We now have a Labour leader to the left of most of the TUC general council.” 

But in the meantime the Tories are in charge—and we can’t wait until the 2020 general election to win change.


Since the Tories came to office in 2010, they’ve slashed more than 5,000 frontline jobs. There aren’t enough crews to staff the engines and local fire stations are shutting. 

Will reaffiliating to Labour stop this onslaught on pay, pensions and jobs? And will it stop the fire stations closing? 

No—our side’s strength doesn’t lie in parliament or the Labour Party but in working class struggle. The Tories are weak and we could kick them out early. 

Most union leaders, such as Unite’s Len McCluskey, are pinning their hopes on Labour to stop the Trade Union Bill.  Wrack is rightly calling for mass action—that’s what we need to build on. 

But the danger is that looking to Labour can be a substitute for fighting.  

While Corbynmania may be transforming politics, the Labour Party machine is intact.

Its aim is to win elections. Having union-sponsored and supportive MPs doesn’t mean automatic support for workers. 

For instance, Wigan MP Lisa Nandy backed the Hovis workers and supports the Bfawu union. But Nandy is part of Labour Together, the “moderate” crowd’s latest project to combat Corbyn

Will Corbyn’s leadership mean Labour’s London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan reopens London’s closed fire stations? 

Only struggle can force that.  We need to strengthen our side—and that won’t be done by jumping into the Labour Party.

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