FBU leadership: the charge sheet

Photo by 'It's No Game' on flickr

Why do we say that the FBU leadership has lost its way and is no longer fit to lead? Why do we accuse them of showing contempt for the principles of democracy, accountability and transparency? Well, here is the charge sheet (complete with hyperlinks). We are content for readers to judge whether or not our criticisms are valid.

A string of employees at the union’s head office – including elected national officers – departed with large pay-offs and gagging orders. Some had made allegations of mistreatment after being subjected to a “toxic” working environment. Much of this information was withheld even from the union’s executive council.

The leadership was exposed for having subjected a 66-year-old female employer to appalling bullying. Her crime? In a private conversation with an HR manager, she gently questioned the outcome of an internal disciplinary case.

The leadership fought tooth and nail for a year, even paying for the services of a top barrister, to prevent a member exercising his legal right to inspect the union’s accounts. The trade union regulator later ruled that the leadership had acted unlawfully. After the leadership lost the case, they issued an unprecedented personal order prohibiting the member from placing any information from the accounts into the public domain.

Union policy requires the leadership to circulate minutes of meetings of the executive council within 14 days of their being agreed at the subsequent meeting. For years, this policy was simply ignored. Then the leadership issued an order that copies of all such minutes must effectively be kept under lock and key inside FBU premises.

On two occasions, the leadership spent thousand of pounds holding nationwide roadshows which were fronted by the general secretary and occurred at the very moment he was up for re-election. Union rules prohibit the use of union resources for the purposes of campaigning in internal elections.

During his re-election campaign in 2019, the general secretary tried to have the rule prohibiting the use of union resources in internal elections suspended. His proposal was rejected by the executive council. The rule had never previously been suspended for any internal election.

A member of the executive council was kicked out of office for publicly criticising leaders of the labour movement over their attempts to block Brexit. An employment tribunal later ruled that he had been unfairly dismissed following a ‘witch-hunt’ by the leadership. An appeal by the leadership succeeded – but only on the basis of a technicality over the official’s employment status. The case cost the union an estimated £100,000 and resulted in a considerable amount of negative publicity across the national media.

The general secretary later accused the same official of stealing IT equipment belonging to the union. The accusation was utterly false. The general secretary subsequently issued a full retraction and apology.

An important member of FBU staff was loaned out for several months to a fringe political organisation that just happened to count the general secretary as a member of its governing body. The leadership has refused to say who paid the employee’s wages for the period of the loan.

A failure by the leadership to take account of a pivotal employment tribunal ruling cost thousands of firefighters around £1,000 in lost holiday payments.

A radical plan to secure the FBU’s future as an independent union, proposed by the leadership and agreed to great fanfare by annual conference, has sat gathering dust on a shelf for several years.

The general secretary ordered the purchase from union funds of deluxe fitness equipment solely for the personal use of a senior colleague. The vice-president – a close ally of the general secretary – subsequently declared that no rules had been broken.

The leadership suspended a key election just 15 minutes before an expected announcement that their favoured candidate had been deselected. They then blatantly misled members about who was responsible for the election’s suspension.

The leadership breached the rule book by failing, without any justification, to run an election for a vacant national officer position within prescribed timescales. They then employed further timewasting tactics which abused the processes of annual conference. At the time of writing, the election has still not commenced.       

An FBU national officer shamefully implied that a critic of the leadership was responsible for the fact that an anonymous crank sent an abusive letter to the union’s head office which expressed a desire to see babies raped and killed.

Senior officials of the union have built close political links with the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – a hardline Trotskyist sect which wants to dismantle the state. Members of this group were invited alongside other Marxists to a private meeting with the general secretary inside FBU head office.

The FBU leadership published a pamphlet in the union’s name which called for a state takeover of vast chunks of the UK’s financial system (including banks and insurance companies). The pamphlet was ghost-written by two veteran Marxists.

In 2019, the leadership donated £220,000 from the union’s political fund to the Labour party’s general election campaign. Shortly thereafter, they donated £25,000 to Rebecca Long-Bailey’s campaign for the Labour leadership. On both occasions there was absolutely no consultation with members or local committees.

In 2019, the leadership hand-picked an individual for the key position of national officer. The appointment was made behind closed doors and without any input from the membership. Just a couple of months previous, the union’s annual conference had explicitly agreed that the position should be open to any member with at least five years’ membership. Despite this, the position was not advertised internally.

A body called the finance and administration committee (‘Fac’), comprised of a small group of senior officials, regularly makes key decisions and recommendations on how members’ money is spent. Minutes of the committee’s meetings are not made available to members or local committees, meaning it is very difficult to scrutinise its work. The committee has effectively become a shadow executive council.

The leadership sanctioned a critic for undertaking paid alternative work in his spare time – even though this was not a clear breach of union rules at the time and other officials had previously undertaken such work with the full knowledge of the leadership. Only later, in an attempt to cover themselves, did the leadership create a policy banning certain officials from undertaking paid alternative work. They then falsely claimed that this policy had always been in force.

In 2019, the leadership imposed a deeply authoritarian policy giving power to the president of the union to instruct any FBU rep (even branch reps) to cease social media activity pending the matter being discussed by the executive council.

During the long-running pay dispute of 2022-23, the leadership consistently refused to recall annual conference – the parliament of the union – thereby denying members and local delegates the opportunity to democratically determine the course of the union’s campaign.

Resolutions passed by annual conference – which then become official union policy – are regularly ignored by the leadership. There is a never-ending list of resolutions, supported by conference, which have simply not be enacted or progressed.

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook.