The Bfawu union of food workers voted on Tuesday break from the Labour Party after more than a century.
The split sharpens the question of whether trade unions should stay affiliated to Labour—and whether socialists should remain members of the party.
The union agreed to split after Labour threatened its president Ian Hodson with expulsion for supposedly being associated with a banned left wing group.
Labour leader Keir Starmer also refused to back a £15 minimum wage—a key demand of the union, which organises fast food workers.
The union slammed Starmer’s war on the left and the party’s charge to the right under his leadership.
In a statement, Bfawu said, “The decision taken by delegates who predominantly live in what’s regarded as Labour red wall seats shows how far the Labour party has travelled away from the aims and hopes of working class organisations like ours.”
It added, “We need footballers to campaign to ensure our schoolchildren get a hot meal.
“Workers in our sector, who keep the nation fed, are relying on charity and good will from family and friends to put food on their tables.
“But instead of concentrating on these issues we have a factional internal war led by the leadership. We have a real crisis in the country and instead of leadership, the party’s leader chooses to divide the trade unions and the membership.”
There was a mix of reactions to Bfawu’s break among left wing Labour members at the party’s conference this week.
One member, who didn’t want to give her name, said, “I think they did the right thing—they have to stand up for themselves. They donate a lot of money to the Labour Party, but the party isn’t where it should be.
But another member, who also didn’t want to be named, said, “I’m not surprised that they left, but I think they should have stayed and not paid any more to the party than they have to.”
Like many left activists, he thinks the left has to organise in affiliated unions to win battles in the Labour Party.
“Unison’s vote to support Keir Starmer’s rule changes against the left was shocking,” he said. “I’ve heard Unison’s Labour link committee is up for election soon and we want left wing delegates to get elected to that.”
Behind the disagreements there’s an argument going on about whether socialists should stay in the Labour Party. At a rally on Tuesday evening, members of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs set out to rouse “demoralised” activists and encourage them to stay.
Many pointed to the twin climate and economic crises as urgent reasons to stay active in the Labour Party. But their own answers to these crises is years of internal struggles to “transform” the party.
MP John McDonnell said the left had won motions on conference floor but, “Unless we wage a struggle in the Labour Party those resolutions will be shelved and ignored. So now the struggle is in the Labour Party.”
He said activists should be “be alongside every industrial struggle, every demonstration, every social movement”—but only to recruit more Labour members to win internal elections.
And despite the fighting talk, he still preached unity with the right. “Keir Starmer was asked if he prefers unity in the party or winning elections. He said winning elections. He doesn’t see that the two go together.”
Bfawu’s break shows there is an alternative. It said leaving Labour “means we will become more political and we will ensure our members’ political voice is heard.
“Bfawu will not be bullied by bosses or politicians.”
Breaking from Labour doesn’t mean being defeated—it means freeing yourself to build struggles, strikes and movements without being stifled by Starmer’s party.