FBU on brink of major rupture as breakaway union launched

THERE IS NOW the likelihood of a significant and historic split in the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) following the launch of a breakaway organisation in the union’s second-largest region.

A group calling itself the ‘London Firefighters Union’ (LFU) – reportedly the creation of a number of serving FBU officials – recently signalled its arrival via social media and a dedicated website.

The new union stated in its launch publicity that it had been established in response to the “cover-ups and corruption” of the current FBU leadership and, shortly afterwards, reported that it had received over a thousand expressions of interest from London firefighters.

In response to the development, the FBU’s executive council (EC) met in emergency session yesterday (18 September). Following the meeting, the EC issued a statement condemning the launch of the new organisation and describing it as “an attempt to undermine the unity of firefighters in defending pay, terms and conditions”. The statement also threatened disciplinary action against any FBU member who was found to have joined the new union (a threat which, if carried out, would actually be unlawful under section 65(2)(g) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992, which expressly prohibits trade unions from taking disciplinary action against members for the act of joining another union).

For the record, nobody connected with Campaign for a Democratic FBU has any involvement with the LFU. Our focus remains on trying to win back the FBU for its members. But neither are we surprised by the emergence of the new union. After all, as we have demonstrated in blog after blog over the past two years, the leadership of the FBU has become a law unto itself; running the union along the most authoritarian lines; presiding over an erosion of democracy, accountability and transparency; breaching rules and policies at will; embroiling itself in financial scandals; trying to hide the spending activities of senior officials from members; conducting political witch-hunts against dissenters; using the rule book as a political weapon; bullying its own staff; making up policies retrospectively to justify disciplinary action; and attaching itself to political causes and organisations that do not enjoy the support of mainstream members. In short, it is a leadership which has brought massive dysfunction to the union and runs the organisation as if it were its own personal property.

In that context, it is hardly surprising that FBU leaders released such a heavy-handed and threatening statement in response to the launch of the LFU. It is how they do things, these days.

The split in the FBU would be the first significant rupture in a trade union since several officials of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) broke away to form the Criminal Justice Workers’ Union (CJWU) in 2020.

The FBU leadership may try to persuade itself that it is blameless in this whole affair and that the new union is the work of dark and sinister forces. Or it may choose to engage in some honest self-reflection and ask itself whether its own conduct over recent years might have led the union to the quite appalling place where it now finds itself – on the brink of a major (and potentially irreversible) schism.

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