The former regional secretary for Northern Ireland Tony Maguire has written an open letter to all FBU members ahead of the re-call conference on Friday 27 November 2015 which will debate the union’s new political strategy, which advises re-affiliation to the Labour party.
I am no longer a trade member of the FBU but as I was the delegate to conference who moved the disaffiliation resolution on behalf of region 2, I think I am owed a comment.
At the time, many accused us of knee jerking in reaction to New Labour’s handling of our pay dispute. Whilst this certainly gave some impetus to the tide of support for disaffiliation, it was not the prime mover. The debate had been simmering since the New Labour mask first slipped. Many hard working FBU officials and loyal members had watched with something approaching horror at how the Labour party had changed. What had once been the voice of the labour movement in parliament had in effect become anti-labour. The voices of working people in general and the public services in particular were not being listened to in New Labour’s ‘big conversation’.
Many in the broader movement believed that the time had come to cut our links with the New Labour project and form a NEW party to represent the interests of workers at the mercy of rampant neo-liberalism and privatisation of public services. Unfortunately, despite a number of promising gatherings and false starts, this new party failed to materialise. I still believe to this day however that in the circumstances prevalent at that time, we were right to disaffiliate.
But things have changed. The New Labour element of the Labour party has been taken to task for their arrogance and betrayal of traditional Labour values. In a seismic shift Jeremy Corbyn has been thrust into the leadership role and is indisputably committed to rebuilding a Labour party that can do what working people need and expect it to do. Dare I say it? A ‘Real’ Labour Party.
Jeremy Corbyn and his team have a mountain to climb to turn Labour around and gain the confidence of the electorate to put a reformed party into government. The FBU must be a part of that struggle because if we are not then we will truly be a part of the problem. Our Union will always need to campaign at the political level and we must be a part of this broad based effort to reform this party that trade unionists built in the first place.
But it is also very important to remember that nothing is set in stone, so if a reformed Labour failed to deliver, Conference would certainly reconsider our position.
As I have already stated, I am no longer an FBU official but if I was, I would be supporting and campaigning for reaffiliation. I wish Jeremy Corbyn and his brilliant team all the very best of luck.
Region 2, Northern Ireland.