The Socialist Unity Network

No place for witch-hunts in the FBU


Reports have emerged in the mass media that the FBU leadership are setting up an investigation into an initially unnamed group said to be “a union within a union”. We reported on the setting up of Grassroots FBU in issue 12 of SOLIDARITY magazine. The group was formed by members across the country opposed to the deal which the Gilchrist leadership sold in the national dispute.


The decision to set up an investigation has been taken days before the FBU AGM at which the leadership is facing a few difficulties, including a debate over breaking with the Labour Party. The clique around Gilchrist was also clearly shaken when the apparatus candidate was beaten by Paul Woolstenholmes in the recent election for National Officer.


Whilst the leadership has been able to win ballots in relation to the dispute, this reflects the disillusion amongst the membership at the sell-out that the leadership engineered, after its posturing over a 40% claim, rather than satisfaction with the deal.


Whether or not the investigation develops into a fully fledged witch-hunt against leading activists involved in Grassroots FBU remains to be seen. But it is clearly a pre-emptive strike by a leadership fearful for its future. It is possible that the apparatus will use the investigation to block left candidates from standing in elections which will be taking place shortly.


In the London Evening Standard the issue was spun along the lines of a group of wild eyed extremists plotting to remove Gilchrist. The Standard article named the group and quoted unnamed “FBU leaders” as saying they are prepared to investigate allegations of “widespread and serious misconduct” within the union by a “hard left faction”. According to the Standard “dozens of FBU members could be suspended if it is found rules have been broken”.


Below we reproduce a statement by Grassroots FBU which rebuts this nonsense. There is nothing in the constitution to prevent activists campaigning to change the union and its leadership. That Gilchrist and co have found it necessary to make such a move is an expression of the weakness of their position.


FBU activists will decide how they will oppose any witch-hunt, but should the “investigation” develop into one, labour movement activists in other unions should prepare to campaign against it.



Grassroots FBU

For a democratic and fighting union



Further to reports circulating in today’s media regarding the decision by the leadership of the Fire Brigades Union to launch a top-level internal investigation into allegations of “serious misconduct” by activists involved with the rank and file group ‘Grassroots FBU’, we wish to make clear the following.


Grassroots FBU is categorically not a union within a union. It is a loose network of FBU activists that was set-up three months ago in response to the outcome of the FBU pay dispute, which, for most FBU members, was a bitter disappointment. Grassroots FBU condemns the current FBU leadership for its total capitulation during the pay dispute (in spite of an overwhelming 9-1 mandate supporting industrial action), and for a further series of betrayals subsequently, all of which has resulted in a massive attack both on FBU members’ conditions of service and the UK fire service in general.


However, Grassroots FBU has always urged FBU members to stay within the Fire Brigades Union, and to fight to reclaim it. We wish to see a return to a democratic and fighting union. Our statement of aims says this explicitly, as has much of our literature that has been circulated to FBU members. We have never encouraged members to act outside the rules of the Fire Brigades Union.


Contrary to some reports, Grassroots FBU is not a group of hard-left activists. Our supporters are individuals of all political persuasions and none. For many, the sole reason for their involvement is their acute concern about the current leadership’s abject refusal to lead a fight to defend their conditions of service and oppose cuts in fire cover across the UK.


Further, many feel that internal democracy within the FBU has been completely eroded since the strikes by a leadership that willfully refuses to listen to the concerns of its grassroots members. Grassroots FBU believes it reflects the concerns of thousands of FBU members the length and breadth of the UK, and will continue to be a galvanising force for those members.


Most trade unions have within them various types of pressure groups, rank and file organisations and caucuses, which attempt to influence the direction of their union. Indeed, the Executive Council of the FBU has its own self-styled and unofficial “Left Group” of which the General Secretary himself is a part. Grassroots FBU is part of this trend, and its activities have always been entirely open and transparent.


Further, the FBU leadership aligns itself very closely to similar such pressure groups in the Labour Party, such as the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs. Indeed the FBU General Secretary has spoken at organised meetings of such groups.


To this end, and without wishing to pre-judge the investigation, Grassroots FBU believes there is no place in a democratic organisation for organised witch-hunts against individuals who happen to hold a different point of view.




Visit the Grassroots FBU web site at:



May 2004

 Solidarity magazine

For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism