SINCE RE-AFFILIATING BACK to the Labour Party in 2015, a direct result of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has been playing a bigger role in the party’s annual conference.
One of the big themes emerging from conference is how the party operates democratically. During the conference debate on party democracy, the FBU made two major interventions. The first concerned the rules on how a Labour leader is elected. In the FBU a candidate needs only one nomination in order to stand for the post of general secretary.
This is because the union does not want to put barriers in front of the membership on who they can and cannot vote for. It’s their union and their choice. The threshold for leadership nominations should be reduced. The Labour Party could learn something from the FBU in this process.
In June, at our own conference in Brighton, the FBU made a bold and significant intervention into the Labour Party’s Democracy Review by demanding the party adopt mandatory reselection of MPs in each parliament. The current process for holding sitting MPs to account by their CLP membership has the strong whiff of entitlement.
Some MPs seems to think theirs is a job for life, a job where you cannot even be questioned on your activities of representation, let alone be held accountable. A lifetime’s entitlement to a parliamentary seat is utterly undemocratic.
Bringing real democracy into the Labour Party is essential to our vision of society. Allowing members to have a real say over who represents them, and how they can hold representatives to account, is vital if we are to have any chance of achieving our goal, which is to bring about a society which has the working classes’ best interests at its core under a socialist government.
We brought an emergency motion to conference about news that broke the week beforehand concerning residents of the North Kensington community. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council sent letters to approximately 80 residents who had been evacuated from buildings surrounding the tower with an ultimatum – move back into the properties by the end of September or face losing their tenancies.
This is a disgusting and appalling way to treat a traumatised community and is contributing to a climate of fear. It is yet another example of just how out of touch the Tory leadership of the council is. The Labour Party must stand side by side with the community for however long it takes to get justice.
Sixteen months after the disaster we have seen very little change. There have been no arrests, people are still in temporary accommodation and hundreds of buildings are still covered in flammable cladding. The Grenfell Tower fire was no act of God, it was a crime against the community and one that could have been avoided.
The FBU has laid out the case in a report called Background To An Atrocity which details how the deregulation and privatisation agenda has ripped up fire safety throughout the UK. It was heartening to see so many Labour members and activists visiting the FBU stall to pick up a copy of the report – we gave out over 1500 copies over three days.
This year the FBU celebrates 100 years since it was founded in 1918. As part of plans to mark this momentous occasion the FBU has an interactive exhibition travelling the UK that tells the story of our union and firefighters over the past ten decades. We were honoured to have it at Labour Party conference. It gives a fascinating insight into how a small, industrially focused union can change its industry and improve the lives of firefighters, as well as make our society much safer. The exhibition is at events across the UK in the next few months. If it’s in your neck of the woods, I urge you to go to see it.
For more information, visit www.fbu. org. uk/centenary
FBU national officer