Anger at the Government's treatment of firefighters since the 2002 pay dispute came to a head on 17 June when the Fire Brigades Union conference voted overwhelmingly to disaffiliate from the Labour Party.
Delegates backed disaffiliation by five to one on a show of hands, and by 35,105-to-14,611 on a card vote, rejecting a proposal from the FBU's Executive Council to reduce the union's affiliation fee from £30,000 to £20,000 as part of a political fight within the Labour Party.
Those supporting the disaffiliation motion - submitted by the union's Northern Ireland, Strathclyde and Greater Manchester regions - cited not only the generally anti-working class character of the Blair government, but its treatment of firefighters during the 2002 pay dispute and the fire service management's failure to honour even the pay deal agreed in June 2003 after the end of the strike.
The employers have delayed payment of the 3.5% increase due in November under the new Pay and Conditions Agreement, and there is concern that the 4.2% due later this year will be delayed too.
Having led the 2002-3 campaign for a £30,000 basic wage to defeat, the FBU leadership under Andy Gilchrist has failed to give members any guarantees about action if the employers do fail to fulfil the agreement.
In these circumstances, it is unsurprising that conference delegates refused to trust the leadership's promises of a fight inside the Labour Party. At the same time disaffiliation will not represent a clear political strategy for the union.
By withdrawing from the fight inside the Labour Party at a time when the Blairite leaders are in trouble, the FBU has weakened its ability to launch a serious political fight against the Blairites, without significantly strengthening its industrial position.
Inside or outside the Labour Party, firefighters need rank-and-file organisation independent of the union leadership.