Guess who once published an exposé on dodgy financial dealings by top officials inside the Fire Brigades Union

A FINANCIAL SCANDAL inside the Fire Brigades Union. Secret backroom deals. Senior officials caught misusing members’ money. A sudden and mysterious retirement. Claims of a “conspiracy of silence”. The membership misled. Calls for heads to roll. Demands to restore openness and accountability.

2023? No, it’s 1994, and a rank-and-file bulletin, Flame, has published a dossier revealing how leading officials inside the London region of the FBU had entered into private backroom agreements – enriching themselves at members’ expense – and then sought to hide the arrangements from the regional committee and wider membership. Those who were around at the time still recall how the revelations created a stir throughout the union.

Flame did an excellent job in exposing the affair. The bulletin was produced by activists of the Militant Tendency – ‘Militant’ – inside the FBU. (Militant was a far-left grouping which infiltrated the Labour party, before eventually being banned and seeing its supporters expelled from the party’s ranks.)

Whatever the politics of Flame’s originators, this particular edition of the bulletin was a belter. The revelations were devastating; the demands in response firm and principled.

“Give us back our union,” screamed the headline, above allegations that senior officials had “made decisions about money behind the backs of members” and, in doing so, treated those members “with contempt”. The dodgy deals had not been put before the regional committee for approval, claimed the bulletin, and, when one of the officials involved resigned suddenly after being rumbled, his associates “misled the membership by not reporting the facts about his departure from the union”. These officials had “been acting as a law unto themselves with complete contempt for democracy and accountability” and there had been a “conspiracy of silence”. It was “time for them to do the honourable thing – RESIGN”, stormed the bulletin, before concluding with a series of demands, one of which was for the establishment of committees of “rank and file delegates to scrutinise accounts”.

What, we wonder, might the supporters of Flame make of the current “hush money” scandal inside the FBU? What might they think of the revelations that the union’s most senior officials had authorised secret (and, in some cases, substantial) payments – using members’ money, of course – to a string of employees who had complained of mistreatment and, in return, required those individuals to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs)? What might their view be of a leadership that did such things and then deliberately withheld all the crucial details from the rest of the union – including the executive council? What might they make of the fact that among the employees to depart suddenly and with pay-offs and NDAs were national officers who had been elected to their positions by thousands of members? What would they say about initial attempts by the union’s leadership to prevent a member exercising his legal right to inspect the union’s accounting records so that all this stuff might be uncovered? Might they be disturbed at the further revelation that that same member had been threatened with discipline by the leadership in the event he dared to disclose the details to others? Would they not conclude that all of these machinations by the leadership amounted to a quite disgraceful attack on the basic principles of democracy, accountability and transparency inside the union?

For what it’s worth, we’re quite certain that most of Flame’s supporters, were they still to be around in the union today, would be supporting all those – including this blog – attempting to shine a light on these matters. In fact, one of them is still around. He was, in fact, the bulletin’s editor back in 1994. And these days he serves as the FBU’s general secretary.

Step forward, Matt Wrack. Once a battering ram for democracy, accountability and transparency inside the FBU. Now the head of a regime that stands in the way of these things.

Yep, we definitely preferred his earlier stuff.

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