There had been a long-running debate in the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) about our affiliation with the Labour Party going back to the 1980s. But it all came to a head during the 2002/2003 disputes. Our members were taken aback by how suddenly the pressure was put on by the government and the harshness with which we were treated. One Labour politician even described us as fascists. We settled the disputes in 2003 and at the following year’s conference we disaffiliated from the party.
An overwhelming percentage of the FBU membership supported the decision. I suspect that in the beginning a lot of our members just wanted to give Labour a bit of a kick but they have continued to back disaffiliation in the following years. Since then we have been thinking through how we develop: what we do politically as a disaffiliated union.
There was a concern among our officials that we would be left isolated and politicians wouldn’t talk to us anymore. I don’t think that has happened. We have a very good relationship with a lot of MPs and have also rebuilt some of our relations with government. Ironically, it seems that since disaffiliating we have formalised a lot more of our parliamentary work.
Using the political fund
We continue to use our political fund to support individual Labour MPs, such as John McDonnell in his leadership bid. Our regional groups have supported Green and Respect candidates, although the FBU nationally has not supported any other parties’ candidates since Labour.
In Scotland being disaffiliated has opened more doors for us. We have backed a range of candidates, including the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). We have a good relationship with the Scottish government, possibly better than the one we have at Westminster. It strikes me how different the political debate in Scotland is to England. The first minister goes to the Scottish TUC and talks openly about council housing and opposing the war – stuff that a politician would never tell you here.
We also support plenty of single-issue campaigns. This year we have worked closely with the anti-fascist movement, funding the Love Music Hate Racism march and festival.
Some people think we should be moving further towards an approach where we pick out individual candidates and campaigns. I don’t agree. I feel strongly that there needs to be a wider approach – the left and the working class needs a political party but there isn’t one for them at this time.
No longer Labour
In theory, you would think that if the Labour government is on the ropes it would be an ideal opportunity for the trade unions to put some demands to them. I’ve not seen any evidence, although I hope this will happen.
Instead, it seems that among the affiliated unions there is currently a move to rally round the Labour Party as the election approaches. I’m pleased we don’t have that in the FBU, as I don’t think it washes with either members or people generally. There is no sign of a change in direction now and there is unlikely to be any change after an election either.
There is a huge amount of frustration with mainstream politics. There is consensus among the three main parties around a neoliberal agenda. For us as trade unions that is about the privatisation and restrictions on trade union rights that have alienated Labour’s core supporters.
I am no longer a Labour member. I am not convinced the party can be reclaimed in the way people want it to be at the moment. But we need to be political and the working class needs representation in parliament. How we achieve that is a drawn-out process. The trade unions that are clearly opposed to the mainstream agenda need to discuss and co-operate a lot more. The challenge for us is the need for a fundamental debate about the type of society we want.
For me as a socialist, I’d like a socialist society. I think there is a growing unease about some of the developments – ever-growing inequality and climate change, for example – and the fact is the policies around which Labour, Liberals and Tories address those issues – a market based approach – can’t do anything.
Matt Wrack was talking to Lena de Casparis
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History