FBU rep challenges Socialist Worker's coverage of fire strikes

In defence of the FBU

This is from Socialist Worker

Your coverage of the London firefighters’ dispute has angered FBU activists.

Your reports of the first strike on 23 October were outlandish. You wrote (SW 23 October) that “the rank-and-file pickets were so militant that Wrack and the other union officials struggled to keep control of the situation.” [1] It might fit your preconceived schema to paint Wrack as a typical trade union bureaucrat, but those of us actually present saw the union’s general secretary fully supporting the picketing.

No doubt fantasising that you were witnessing the French revolution, you then posted a video which was then carried by the BBC and other news outlets and used to discredit the union. You should realise that in a real struggle, it pays to think about the tone and content of reporting.

Bonfire night

Your reports on the bonfire night strikes show you neither understand the decision taken by the FBU’s London committee nor have an alternative strategy for FBU members. The strikes were cancelled because management moved on the key issue in the dispute – the threat to sack 5,500 firefighters by 18 November. Management agreed not to impose new contracts as they had planned, but to postpone that decision until late January. That movement, together with their offer of 11-13 without strings was sufficient to suspend the strike action.

Your report (SW 4 November) registered that management had made “concessions”, but nevertheless stated that the decision was a mistake because the union had “missed a key opportunity to stretch the private AssetCo scabbing operation beyond breaking point”. [2] What do you mean by this? Have some people die on bonfire night to ‘prove’ the scabs are rubbish? We didn’t believe the public would thank us for making AssetCo the new objective of the action, when we had significant movement on the main issues.

Criticism within the labour movement is fine. But using the bourgeois press to attack a union is quite another. Yet Richard Seymour, a well-known SWP member used the Guardian’s Comment is Free website (5 November) to slate the FBU. He wrote: “Suspending the strike now will give the fire bosses time to regroup, get better organised and perhaps return to its previous belligerent form with a stronger hand.” [3] We don’t know whether Seymour is a trade unionist, but he certainly never bothered to speak to the FBU before launching his attack.

Rank and file

Then Bro. Yusuf Timms (SW 13 November) claimed that the “key lesson” was that “a rank and file organisation of even limited numbers could have played a huge role in developing a different strategy and winning”. [4]

Nowhere does Socialist Worker outline an alternative strategy. But worse, you disparage the democratic structures of the FBU. The FBU London regional committee is a lay representative body, with reps from all London boroughs. It voted 19-3 to call off the strikes. The decision was endorsed by a meeting of reps from all London FBU workplaces.

You may wish to present the decision as the bureaucracy versus the rank and file. The reality is that the union decided its strategy democratically and has the overwhelming support of its members. You should make those facts clear when you claim to support our dispute.

In order to encourage debate and aid the struggle, Socialist Worker has opened its pages to Ben Sprung, the FBU Camden borough rep and FBU regional organiser, London. He replies to our recent analysis of the end of the strikes


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