Democracy prevails as FBU leadership suffers major – and self-inflicted – defeat on conference floor

THE FBU leadership suffered a major – and entirely self-inflicted – defeat on the floor of the union’s annual conference in Brighton today (12 May), when delegates voted in favour of a proposal to have future vacancies for all national officer positions filled by means of an election of the whole membership and not by appointment.

Historically, the union employed four national officers, all of whom were elected and each responsible for important areas of the union’s work (such as health and safety, pensions, equalities, political activity, legal activity, and so on).

Over recent years, however, there has been a shift, driven by the leadership, towards having some national officers appointed following a selection process which the leadership itself controlled entirely.

Some within the union had expressed fears that the leadership’s ultimate aim was to have all national officers appointed in a tightly-managed process – a scenario that would have weakened democracy and discouraged dissent within the union. Such a closed system would also have been wildly at odds with past pledges of the general secretary and assistant general secretary to increase democracy, accountability and membership participation in the union.

The events on the conference floor today are therefore a welcome development, and delegates deserve credit for defeating the leadership.

The irony is that the debate wouldn’t have taken place at all had it not been for the fact that the leadership failed to run an election for a currently-vacant national officer position within timescales prescribed by the rule book, and ended up instead submitting what appeared to be a completely pointless policy statement to conference. The statement merely sought authority (which the leadership already had under the rule book) to run an election for the vacant position. (We covered this saga in some detail in a previous blog.)

But talk about shoot yourself in the foot! What the leadership apparently failed to anticipate is that brigade committees might, as is their right, propose amendments to that policy statement. And the London region took the opportunity to move an amendment proposing that vacancies for all national officer positions would in future be filled by means of an election of the entire membership and not by appointment in a behind-closed-doors process.

The conference vote was a huge blow to a leadership which has become more and more autocratic as time has gone on. So the message tonight to conference delegates is “Bravo!”, while the message to the leadership is “In future, stick to the rules – or your antics might end up backfiring on you!”

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