Are FBU members footing the bill for a key employee to work for a fringe political organisation which counts the general secretary as a member of its governing body?

[We stress from the outset that we level no accusation of wrongdoing against FBU employee Craig Lloyd, who is the focus of this blog.]

Momentum is a political pressure group that sits on the far-Left of the spectrum. It is not affiliated to the Labour party, but tries to wield influence inside it. The organisation emerged from a network of activists which had come together to support the candidature of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election in 2015.

Momentum has been accused of promoting a fringe political agenda which has helped to make the Labour party unelectable. The organisation rejects such accusations and says it has helped to rejuvenate the party.

The FBU’s general secretary, Matt Wrack, has been a vocal supporter of Momentum from its early days. Today, he is a member of the organisation’s governing body, known as the national co-ordinating group (NCG).

Some years ago, the FBU’s executive council agreed to formally affiliate the union to Momentum – though, given that members are effectively prevented from inspecting minutes of executive council meetings, ascertaining precise details of this decision is not easy. The decision certainly appears to have been taken without any meaningful consultation with members and local committees – a controversial move, given it is reasonable to assume that some members and local committees would have voiced opposition to affiliation. But FBU leaders seemingly decided to make a unilateral decision on the matter. As is so often the case these days, they made no attempt to secure the support of members, or even to have the debate with them; they simply took the decision and then presented it to the rest of the labour movement as evidence of the FBU’s radical credentials. Of course, unless decisions like this are rooted in the consent of members, such grandstanding is ultimately meaningless.

More recently, the FBU leadership has thrown itself into the frontline of internal clashes within Momentum. For example, in a power struggle last year between competing factions vying for control, FBU leaders very publicly threw their weight behind one of those factions. Once more, there was no meaningful consultation with members or local committees on this decision; it was again taken by a small group of leaders behind closed doors. It is probably fair to say that some FBU members might well question the merits of the union getting involved in these types of obscure factional battles inside fringe political organisations.

Members might also raise an eyebrow at information obtained by us at Campaign for a Democratic FBU suggesting that a full-time employee of the FBU – Craig Lloyd, a research and policy officer based at the union’s head office – has been ‘loaned out’ to Momentum. The minutes of meetings of Momentum’s national co-ordinating group show that, for most of the past 12 months, Lloyd was in attendance, listed as a Momentum staff member. One set of minutes state very clearly that Lloyd was ‘seconded from the FBU’.

Is this important? We think so. After all, as a modestly-sized union with limited resources and a small workforce (and at a time when, as the general secretary has repeatedly warned us, we face unrelenting financial pressures), our union can surely ill-afford to casually lend out important members of staff to external organisations – particularly when, as in this case, the organisation appears to have a larger membership base (and perhaps greater resources) than the union itself does.

Our union has been forced to implement a raft of savings over recent years – savings that have inevitably increased the pressures and workloads on officials up and down the country. Some regions, such as London, have, in the past, even had to fight to secure adequate admin support in their offices. Members and officials might therefore question the merits of a decision to loan out a key member of staff from head office.  

As one of the FBU’s two research and policy officers, Craig Lloyd’s role is unquestionably an important one: his work would run across a wide spectrum, helping to inform and shape official FBU policy in a number of areas, perhaps covering issues such as Grenfell, pensions and cuts.

Are FBU members better-served having Lloyd work for Momentum rather than the union during these challenging times? We think not. We believe that most members and officials would likewise think not.

Four days ago, we contacted the FBU general secretary and put a number of questions to him. We asked:

  • Was the decision to loan Craig Lloyd to Momentum approved by the executive council?
  • Has a fixed period for the loan been agreed, or is it indefinite? If fixed, what is the period?
  • Is Craig Lloyd being loaned to Momentum on a full-time basis? 
  • Who is paying Craig Lloyd’s wages throughout the period of the loan?

This final question is, we believe, a crucial one. If Momentum is not reimbursing Craig Lloyd’s wages, then it effectively means that FBU members are footing the bill for someone to work for a third party – in this case a third party in the shape of a fringe political organisation that just happens to enjoy the patronage of the general secretary and counts him as a member of its governing body. 

Unfortunately, the general secretary did not provide a response to any of our questions.

At the end of the day, we are entitled to expect employees of our union to be doing work for the union and its members during their designated hours; they are not commodities to be loaned out to external organisations on the whim of the leadership.

Ironically, in 2019, the leadership circulated a new policy prohibiting certain categories of FBU official from undertaking alternative work in their spare time. The efforts of these officials should, at all hours, be devoted entirely to the union, argued the leadership. Yet they seem quite happy to instruct key employees, paid by the membership, to abandon their important FBU work and take up a role with a separate organisation.

These actions smack once again of a leadership which runs our union as though it were a private company and thinks itself above the normal rules of scrutiny and accountability. They make these kinds of decisions because they think no-one is watching.

In the event that the general secretary does respond to our questions, we will update this blog with his answers.