Socialist Worker

Now firefighters move to open up political funds

Issue No. 1891

ANOTHER KEY trade union is moving to open up its political funds so members can democratically decide how they are used. The Fire Brigades Union is set to allow members to give money to candidates standing against New Labour.

This follows Labour's expulsion of the RMT rail union for allowing its branches to back non-Labour candidates who back union policies. A special meeting of the FBU's 18-strong executive will recommend to its May conference that regions can choose which candidates to support with their political funds.

The executive's move was made to head off calls from firefighters for their union to split from the Labour Party completely. Firefighters are still furious that the Labour government condemned them as 'criminals' and even 'fascists' during their strikes. The union's executive's recommendations include keeping the link with the Labour Party, but reducing donations and allowing members more flexibility to use the political fund in pursuit of the union's objectives.

General secretary Andy Gilchrist said, 'Our members are quite rightly asking why we are linked to the Labour Party and give them money. But the party is not the government, and we are recommending we keep the link but cut our donations.

'We have to look to how we can best influence decision-making across the UK, and that may mean more flexible use of our political fund.' Paul Embury from the FBU in Islington told Socialist Worker, 'The FBU executive has decided to recommend the union's political fund is opened up so members can fund candidates standing in opposition to New Labour. As a Labour Party member myself, I think this represents an opportunity to break free of the shackles of Blair and New Labour, and show solidarity with the RMT. This hasn't been widely reported because the union leadership want reports to concentrate on cutting funds to Labour rather than democratising our political fund, which is more significant. I am confident that the moves to democratise the fund will be passed at our conference. It will devolve power to regional committees to support non-Labour candidates, such as Respect and the Scottish Socialist Party.'

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Sat 6 Mar 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1891
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