Unsurprisingly firefighters’ faith in the Labour Party had diminished substantially following the behaviour of New Labour during the bitter 2002/03 pay dispute.
So, at the FBU conference in Southport in June 2004, the union voted 35,105 to 14,611 to sever a link that dated back more than 80 years. As a result Labour lost income and political support from the union.
A compromise from the executive to cut its financial support was rejected by delegates. Conference heard how Labour prime minister Tony Blair had led much of the disparaging language applied to striking firefighters, with Labour minister Nick Raynsford describing them as ‘criminally irresponsible’. FBU assistant general secretary Mike Fordham reminded delegates about Labour ministers calling FBU members “criminals”, “wreckers”, “fascists and even worse”.
Delegates called it “perverse” that working-class people in trade unions were giving their hard-earned cash to a Labour Party that was increasingly making an enemy of them while snuggling up to big business.
Supporters of disaffiliation argued that Labour was no longer the party for the working class, having betrayed them, and that it wasn’t the only one to think so: only months before, in February, the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union had been expelled from Labour in a row about allowing branches to affiliate to other political parties.
The FBU’s proposed Labour disaffiliation Composite Resolution A from Northern Ireland branch read:
“The aims and objectives of the Labour party no longer reflect those of the Fire Brigades Union. Therefore, this conference demands that the FBU disaffiliates from the Labour party nationally. This conference withdraws the authority given under Rule 29 for Labour party national affiliation.”
Northern Ireland’s Tony Maguire told conference:
“Our members have been betrayed by this party, and our class have been betrayed by this party and, yes, they are angry and, yes, they are bitter and they want this mirage of a relationship with new Labour completely and utterly severed.”