The continuing collapse of leadership in the FBU

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A delegation of Gate Gourmet locked-out workers are welcomed at the Hounslow UNISON AGM
A delegation of Gate Gourmet locked-out workers are welcomed at the Hounslow UNISON AGM

THE leadership of the FBU ignominiously collapsed at yesterday’s FBU recall conference, held to decide on industrial action to defend the final salary pensions of its membership.

The collapse came when the NEC withdrew its resolution for a strike action ballot, after the Labour government revised its proposals to include bringing in a two tier pensions arrangement that would penalise new starters and create a two-tier FBU.

This is in a job where teamwork and the unity in action of firefighters is a life and death question.

The change means that current firefighters with 30 years service can retire at 50 on their current final salary pension, while new starters will be on a different and much inferior pension scheme, and will have to work till they are 60, or retire after 30 years service on a very much smaller pension.

With the hint of a rotten compromise in the air, not only did the NEC withdraw its motion, it pushed forward a new one, suggesting that after a period of consultation with the membership, the NEC should be allowed to decide whether the offer is accepted or not.

This proposal was too barefaced even for the majority of the right wing and the Stalinists.

An alternative right wing resolution was put forward by the Northern Ireland region of the union. It supported the position of the executive, with the proviso that a motion to accept the offer would have to be put to another recall conference of the union.

These two motions were opposed by resolutions from London and the Midlands.

These called for the strike ballot to be held and for the union to fight for a final salary pension for all, with a common retirement procedure for both current workers and new starters.

However, that was not the end of the dirty dealing. After a hearty lunch, no doubt, it was announced that the London and West Midlands resolutions were withdrawn leaving a choice between the two right wing motions.

Seeing that the Northern Ireland resolution gave the best form of cover for the right wing and the Stalinists to capitulate, this was put to the vote and carried 60 per cent to 40 per cent.

The debacle at this recall conference means that the crisis in the leadership of the FBU has deepened since the removal of Andy Gilchrist as general secretary.

He was removed after he launched the struggle for a 40 per cent wage increase and then capitulated to turn it into an auction of the terms and conditions won by the union in the last 25 years for a 16 per cent wage rise over three years.

He presided over the sell-out of the terms and conditions of the union members and was removed. Those who have replaced his leadership have now turned their defence of the unions final salary pension scheme, and retirement criteria, into an attack on all of the new starters in the industry and the retained firefighters, and have created the potential for a split in the FBU.

The lesson from the Gilchrist capitulation and this latest fiasco, is that Stalinist and centrist union leaderships, in a period of capitalist crisis, are incapable of defending the gains that the trade unions have made, and can only betray, opting for the line of least resistance, namely what they can sell off to appease the government, even if that undermines the union.

The 40 per cent of delegates who voted against must learn the lessons of the debacle.

There must be a new Trotskyist leadership built in the union, one that is prepared to fight and defeat the Blair-Brown government and to carry the day for strike action inside the union, and at the next recall conference.