Socialist Worker

Union leader Sarah Woolley defends split from Labour

The Bfawu bakers’ union recently voted to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. Bfawu general secretary Sarah Woolley spoke to Charlie Kimber about the move and what comes next

Issue No. 2776

Bfawu members on strike at Hovis in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Bfawu members on strike at Hovis in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Pic: BFAWU)


‘Let’s be clear, we have disaffiliated from Labour but Bfawu will try to be more political after what’s happened, not less.

We won’t have a full discussion about our next moves until next month, but there are ideas around community organising, pushing hard for a £15 an hour minimum wage, abolishing zero hours contracts and doing away with pay discrimination against young workers.

We will work with MPs who support us.

We’re going to focus a lot of our energy on politicising our membership.

Some people say we should concentrate just on industrial issues as a trade union, but politics comes into everything we do.

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We need more working class people in parliament and councils.

I hope we will be able to encourage our members to stand for those positions, whether it be as a Labour person, a Green or for socialist groups like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

In Scotland we will be able to let our members stand for who they want and perhaps support them. We won’t have to worry about being thrown out of Labour for backing a candidate from another party.

Some people have criticised what we have done, but we have a lot of support. I’ve had messages saying people hope their union will do the same.

This has been a big move. “Stay in Labour and fight” was our position. We were a founding signatory of the Don’t Leave Organise group.

But there comes a point when you have to say we can’t go on, it’s no longer possible to continue as we are.

We had to put workers and the union before the interests of the Labour Party.

I don’t know what it will take for Keir Starmer to realise, the Labour party is nothing without trade unions.

I don’t mean that in a dictatorial way, but Labour is supposed to be the party of the working class. And if it isn’t going to be the party of the working class, then people will look elsewhere.

We don’t want them looking to parties on the right.

If Starmer goes on as he is, we could see 20 more years of the Tories and that will be a disaster for all.

The trade union movement and Labour party should be uniting against cuts to Universal Credit, the national insurance increase and future cuts. Instead Starmer had carried out an internal war.

We have a real crisis in the country and the Labour leader chooses to go for trade unions and divisive moves like changing the way elections for his successor will take place.

It’s bad for us as trade unionists but it’s also letting down millions who need better than Boris Johnson.”


‘Bfawu has been treated badly by the leadership’

Disaffiliating from Labour wasn’t a snap decision.

We had motions at our conference last year about leaving because people didn’t like Keir Starmer moving away from the party’s working class roots.

Those motions were headed off by launching a survey of members’ views which showed they wanted to disaffiliate.

Then came the news that Ian Hodson, our president, had been “auto‑excluded” because he was featured as a sponsor on the Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) website. LAW was made a proscribed organisation at the July meeting of Labour’s national executive.

It was actually the union, not Ian, which had backed LAW in 2017 because we were concerned about the way people were being excluded.

Our previous general secretary, Ronnie Draper, was suspended for retweeting that those leading the coup against Jeremy Corbyn were traitors.

With Ian, we had a second national officer targeted. We felt we had to move quickly because members were pulling out of the political fund.

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If that continued we wouldn’t be able to campaign on important issues.

The executive called a recall conference and moved the motion for disaffiliation.

There was just one vote against, that person thought it should be a decision for an in-person meeting, not an online one.

We had a good debate. The main feeling was disappointment, feeling that the Labour party had backed away from people whose support it desperately needs.

Lots of our members are in those Red Wall seats that Labour say it wants to retake.

Bfawu has been treated badly by the leadership.

I took over in May last year and I know we are not as big as Unite or Unison but we are one of the Labour party founders.

I’ve never had a word from Keir Starmer.

There’s been no attempt to reach out to us and discover what we think.”


Labour turned their back on us

‘The Labour conference was a shambles. If Bfawu leaders had held a conference like that, we’d have been hung, drawn and quartered.

Points of order were brushed aside, people who wanted to speak were ignored, ballot times were cut short—all to aid the right and its control of the party.

Keir Starmer stood on the idea of coming together as one movement.

Well, the conference showed that was never the plan.

Obviously some people wanted us to change our minds about disaffiliation. We met deputy leader Angela Rayner and she asked what it would take to put this right.

We told her it was too late. There had been no response when we did our members’ survey and no action when Ian was auto‑excluded.

We had indications that Ian’s membership would be restored. It never happened.

We met Anneliese Dodds, the Labour Party chair, and she seemed sympathetic, but there was no action.

Bfawu will not accept bullying from any bosses or a party that chooses to be on the bosses’ side.”


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