Socialist Worker

Labour doesn’t want unions in the party, says bakers’ union leader

Ian Hodson, president of the Bfawu union, faces expulsion from the Labour Party after being listed as a sponsor of an organisation now banned by leader Keir Starmer. Now, Bfawu union members are set to debate whether the union should disaffiliate from Labour—ending a link established in 1902. Hodson spoke to Socialist Worker

Issue No. 2770

Bfawu president Ian Hodson on a McDonalds workers picket line in 2018

Bfawu president Ian Hodson on a McDonald's workers' picket line in 2018 (Pic: Guy Smallman)


What are Keir Starmer and the party’s general secretary David Evans trying to do with these threats against members and trade unions?

They’re certainly trying to lose the next election. My opinion is they don’t’ see any future of trade unions and members being part of their party. They want to be able to attract donors from the big corporations.

This is their attempt to ensure they silence any criticism in the party to make a safe place for these big corporations to come and invest.

I can’t see any other reason why Labour would embark on criminalising its own members.

The Labour Party has always been a place of debate. We understand that there will always be differences of opinions; But the right to debate and discuss issues I always thought was a fundamental belief of the labour movement, including the Labour Party.

Your recent survey of members showed a small majority in favour of disaffiliation. Why do you think that was?

Keir Starmer didn’t oppose relaxing social distancing measures last year, and supported the government reopening of the economy without measures in place, without consulting trade unions.

We received a lot of complaints from members about what he had done and the risks that opened up to them. They turned out to be true in the food sector.

The deaths in the food industry went up fivefold. They were right to raise those concerns and aggrieved that they hadn’t been asked whether the Labour Party should support the government’s approach on Covid.

Our members don’t see Starmer wanting to reconnect with them—they see him moving further away.

I’m not suggesting that everyone on the bakers’ union was a Jeremy Corbyn supporter—that came out in the survey too. There’s a huge issue of trust with the Labour Party.

A lot of our membership voted to leave the European Union. They felt betrayed by Labour’s position to back a second referendum, pushed by Keir Starmer.

The bakers’ union has been affiliated to Labour for more than a century. That includes the years of Tony Blair, when the RMT and FBU unions voted to break away from Labour. Bfawu stayed affiliated—what’s changed now?

We never faced this situation even under Blair. We took the Labour Party to court over its changes to Clause 4 of its constitution, which committed it to socialism. We didn’t get threatened with expulsion over that.

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The feeling is that, can the Labour Party on its current trajectory win the next election? We don’t think so.

We can’t support their undermining of the position that we took in relation to scrapping Universal Credit. That needs to go, and we need to introduce a new welfare system that supports people and not punishes them.

We need to see the building of a million council houses. We need to tackle the issue of low pay, with a minimum wage of £15 an hour. We need to see an end to zero hours contracts.

Some of the stuff that Labour’s shadow employment rights minister Andy McDonald has been doing on that is good. If that was the trajectory of the rest of the Labour Party we would not be considering disaffiliation. But it’s not.

The Labour Party’s trajectory is to say we’ve lost the argument and we must adopt the agenda of the Conservative Party to win.

I don’t think it’s right to tell the Labour movement that we’re beaten.

Your disaffiliation debate comes at the same time as Sharon Graham was elected general secretary of the Unite union, promising not to focus on internal Labour politics. Are there discussions going on among union leaders about their relationship to Labour?

My attention has always been on what the members are saying than what the union leaders are saying—not that union leaders don’t have important things to say.

Graham’s campaign was based among the grassroots membership. She was organising on the ground and I understand how important it is to build support from the ground upwards. And I wish her well as Unite general secretary.

If unions can’t rely on the Labour Party, will they have to look to their own strength? What’s the future of the union movement now?

I’m not saying there aren’t decent people inside the Labour Party. We’ll continue to work with those MPs that support the aims and ambitions of the union.

There’s still time for Keir Starmer to change his position on my expulsion and the proscription of some left wing groups. But “people close to Starmer” have told the Mirror newspaper he’s not prepared to back down.

We don’t agree with proscribing organisations of people who are asking to get a fair hearing.

I can’t talk for the union movement. I can only talk for our union—and our members will take that decision.


What we think

Labour’s threat to expel Ian Hodson is just the latest assault by leader Keir Starmer on left wing activists and trade unions.

Hodson is right that Starmer is trying to rescue Labour’s reputation in the eyes of big business.

When left wing Jeremy Corbyn was party leader, bosses and bankers threatened economic sabotage if Labour ever won a general election. Now, Labour is desperate to show them that they can trust it to run the economy “responsibly.”

That’s why workers and trade unionists can’t keep relying on Labour politicians to fight for their interests.

Labour is a party where left wing politics aren’t welcome, and the demands of business come before the needs of ordinary people.

The alternative is the power that workers have in trade unions—to fight over low pay, workers’ rights, against racism, and climate change—with strikes and mass struggle.


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