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AFTER the decision by the Labour Party leadership to blindly follow the Conservatives in its disastrous handling of Covid-19, its failure to consult with safety representatives on the disastrous decision to reduce the two-meter to one-metre plus social distancing measures, left our members feeling angry and betrayed.
Our executive received demands to withdraw funding from the Labour Party, due to it failing to put those who had worked through this pandemic at the forefront of any decision to weaken safety requirements, as it joined with the Tories to focus on reopening the economy rather than to preserve and protect lives, which our members believe should have been the priority.
Our members and activists showed it was perfectly possible to put in place measures that would have saved lives, but the decision by both the Conservative and Labour front benches meant no discussions were held with any labour movement organisations such as the TUC, with both parties gambling with our lives for good media and soundbite politics.
When we raised our concerns, the response from Sir Keir Starmer’s office was that he had to say something from the dispatch box as he couldn’t be seen to not respond, and this meant he had no time to seek advice. We felt this was a poor response from someone who has built a reputation on being forensic.
The results of our recent survey and subsequent conversations show that Labour has lost the support of our members, reflecting the recent declining trend in working-class communities exposed in the local elections.
Members told the union that Labour’s shift to support for a second referendum between 2017 and 2019, away from accepting the result of the 2016 vote, was a big issue which went down badly in the workplace. They felt it exposed Labour’s lack of trust in working-class people to make democratic choices of their own and see them carried out.
They also gave a big thumbs down to Labour’s branding of those who voted to exit the EU as racists or unintelligent — in fact the whole debate was seen as “the people vs the Establishment,” with Labour viewed as the Establishment.
This was exactly how Boris Johnson wanted to pitch the battle — so it appears Labour’s shift to support for a second referendum played right into his hands.
Many respondents from former mining towns said they felt taken for granted, with the party wrongly seeing them as having nowhere else to go other than Labour.
Many members said they had started to look at smaller independent parties as an alternative to the mainstream ones.
But, worryingly, a growing number of members admitted they just will not be voting.
The survey shows that since the 2019 election, the situation facing Labour is even worse, with only 7 per cent of our membership believing that the Labour Party represents their aims or aspirations.
Since the announcement of our intention to survey our members, it has been disappointing that neither Starmer nor anyone from his office have attempted to engage with our union, although we have had a couple of meetings arranged which have subsequently been cancelled or the link to join the meeting never arrived.
In addition to this, we have seen the recent newspaper reports confirming that Lord Mandelson is indeed advising the Labour leader, so we must now accept Mandelson’s comments that the party should distance itself from the trade union movement as being an accurate reflection of the Starmer leadership’s thinking.
Our survey shows that our members are in favour of a political affiliation — just not with the current Labour Party.
While no motion on disaffiliation has been brought to this year’s conference, it is possible that it will happen in the next few years, unless the Labour Party changes its current trajectory.
Our relationship with the Labour Party stretches back to 1893. Even though the party at that time had not been formed, early writings in our union’s history show journeymen in London being addressed by Keir Hardie, and our members standing in places like Barnsley in 1903 on behalf of the Independent Labour Party.
It is somewhat bemusing then, when you consider our long relationship, the loss of trust and falling support in what are commonly now referred to as the red wall seats.
Even more so that the new leadership of the Labour Party has not reached out to our union, considering how strong our membership is in those seats.
To many in today’s Labour Party it may seem that, as the BFAWU is a small trade union, our membership is irrelevant, preferring to chase rich donors and championing the policies of low corporation tax, attacks on trade union freedoms, the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill and wrapping themselves up in a flag, rather than defending workers’ priorities.
Priorities like ending inequality, building homes, and bringing back our national assets such as water, rail, and energy and of course our NHS.
As a union, we have always prided ourselves on our campaigning. We’ve never been a big union but always one that punches above its weight.
Our union was at the forefront of the fight to improve working conditions, by ending the excessively long hours that were the norm in the 1800s and early 1900s to stopping bakers from dying at the average age of 30.
Ending workplace wage inequality for women in the late ’60s and ’70s, fighting to end the use of precarious contracts like zero-hours, ending inequality for young workers or the campaign in 2014 for £10 an hour – now £15 an hour – which was described as extreme!
Politics, industrial organising and campaigning for our union have always gone hand in hand, which is why when our members talk, they have a right to be listened to and their comments taken on board.
What did the survey show?
38 per cent of our membership indicated they felt they were politically active.
And 88 per cent voted in the 2019 election – but sadly only 53 per cent voted for the Labour Party and those that have since given reasons said they could not vote for a party offering a second referendum. Many also said they could not vote for the Tories either, regardless of their position on Brexit.
Shockingly only 7 per cent of our membership felt strongly that Labour today represents their values or their interests:
· 28% felt strongly it did not.
23% felt it did not
· 26% felt neither one way or another
· 17% felt it did
· 7% strongly felt it did
Interestingly a majority of our members (56 per cent) felt there should be a political link. But a small majority (53 per cent) felt we should disaffiliate from today’s Labour Party, while 47 per cent felt we should remain affiliated.
Asked whether they agreed that Labour’s approach to the coronavirus crisis had been positive, the responses were:
· Strongly disagree 25%
· Neither agree or disagree 20%
· Disagree 20%
· Somewhat agree 12%
· Somewhat disagree 11%
· Agree 10%
· Strongly agree 4%
The figures did not look good on how members feel about voting for the current Labour leader. Asked if they would be more likely to vote Labour if it changed its leader, they responded:
· Very likely 24%
· Likely 19%
· Somewhat Likely 17%
· Very unlikely 16%
· Unlikely 10%
· Somewhat unlikely 7%
· Would not vote Labour 7%
And if there was an election tomorrow, 55 per cent said they would not vote Labour, with only 45 per cent saying they would.
This report highlights the breakdown of trust between the Labour Party and our members. It highlights the growing feeling that our members, whose natural home should be inside the Labour Party, are no longer there.
This feeling is not going to be addressed by the constant undermining of the trade unions who have been targeted by those that surround the new leader, encouraging him to sideline trade unions. Nor by the many MPs who are deliberately targeting union representatives, championing the unions that support their political ideology and attacking those that do not.
Labour MPs who get elected to Parliament get there normally due to the support and finance of working people, either through membership dues or affiliation fees.
Without trade unions the Labour Party will become the new Liberal Party and it needs to understand that trade union members are sick of being used, sick and tired of the PLP factions, the briefings, the smears, and the infighting.
If the Labour Party ever wants to win office it must end is factionalism, start serving the movement it was born out of and start delivering on the hopes and aspirations of the communities our members work in.
Ian Hodson on behalf of the Bakers, Food & Allied Workers Union
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