Ballot for national strike action to begin next week. So why has the FBU’s parliament still not been recalled? / Roger Blackwell

WE STAND ON the brink of a national pay strike in the fire and rescue service. The FBU will, according to a circular from general secretary Matt Wrack issued on 6 September 2022, begin balloting members next week.

Yet the leadership has still not recalled the union’s annual conference to discuss the matter.

This is without doubt a significant error.

Annual conference is the parliament of the FBU, the highest level of decision-making within the union’s structures. It represents the mechanism through which local officials can, on behalf of their members, determine union policy and hold the leadership to account. It is democracy in action.

There can be no greater justification for recalling annual conference that an impending national strike.

In the past, annual conference has been recalled for all sorts of reasons, including to discuss such matters as a proposal to reaffiliate the FBU to the Labour party, an internal union restructure and the NJC wider work trials.

During past disputes, such as the pay strikes of 2002-03 and the pensions strikes of 2013-15, annual conference was recalled several times.

So why is the current leadership stubbornly refusing to recall annual conference on this occasion?

Is it because they want to micro-manage the dispute?

Is it because they know that conference delegates would have the ability to determine policy and strategy in respect of the dispute?

Is it because their own strategy (such as it is) would be open to criticism and scrutiny by conference delegates?

Is it because they are just uninterested in the views and ideas of members and local officials?

Whatever the reason, the refusal to recall the parliament of the union as we head into a pivotal national strike is indefensible.

A recall of conference would provide the opportunity to hold a comprehensive and democratic debate about all sorts of questions in relation to the dispute: aims, demands, tactics, strategy, and so on.

It would also allow the whole union to unite behind an agreed position and to argue for that position confidently on picket lines and throughout the media.

As things stand, there is no clear strategy and no definitive pay claim. Members do not know what they are being asked to strike for.

That is no basis on which to launch national industrial action. Instead, it risks division and disunity.     

This dispute cannot be run by occasional circulars and videos published by FBU head office. It needs to be rooted in the consent of members and local officials from the outset. Otherwise things may begin to unravel quickly.

Recall conference now.

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