TONY BLAIR would not have “got away” with some of his most right-wing policies without the support of trade unions, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) leader Matt Wrack said yesterday.
The FBU revealed earlier this week that it could seek to become the first ever union to reaffiliate to Labour, following its support for successful leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn.
Firefighters voted to cut their link to Labour in 2004 after a bitter pay dispute with the Blair government, but relations have recently improved. Reaffiliation motions were put to this year’s FBU conference but withdrawn after the party’s general election defeat.
In an exclusive interview with the Star, Mr Wrack said that when the Labour leadership election kicked off, he feared “we’d end up with a leader to the right of Miliband.” He said the subsequent shift in the debate had been “remarkable.”
Mr Wrack argued that it was crucial for affiliated unions to stand by their political positions.
“There’s no way we’d go in other than to fight for our union’s policies,” he said. “We’re not into doing any behind-the-scenes deals or to undermine the position of our members or rank and file trade unionists anywhere.”
“Blairism couldn’t have got away with what it did without the unions, actually.
“If we affiliate, we’ll be fighting for Labour Party democracy and restoring some of the [internal policy-making] structures that have been undermined over two decades.”
Essex brigade chair Riccardo la Torre told the Star that his division was undecided on whether to support the proposal and was currently consulting members.
“We’re very aware that Corbyn and [shadow chancellor John] McDonnell need all the support we can give them,” he said. “But we are cautious about knee-jerk reactions, especially as we have another conference in May. Maybe we’ll have a better view of things [by then].
“There are plenty of ways we can support Corbyn and McDonnell without affiliation. There’s a real opportunity to get into our local Labour parties and support people.”
But FBU London secretary Paul Embery, who opposed reaffiliation at the union’s conference in May, told the Star that he now felt there was little need for caution.
He said waiting for Labour’s new leaders to demonstrate their socialist credentials was akin to placing a bet “after the race is finished.”
“The only way to defend [Corbyn] is to get people in and stop the Blairites doing him in,” he added.
The reaffiliation motion will stress that the union should not include Scottish and Northern Irish members in the numbers it affiliates. Mr Wrack said this reflected “the growing impact of devolution, the rise of the SNP, a different world in many ways.”