The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) will hold its annual conference in Southport this week.
Issues of pay and defending the fire service from neoliberal restructuring are likely to be high on the agenda.
The conference comes in the wake of a successful strike on Merseyside last September that saw off an attempt by management to break the union with bullyboy tactics.
The Merseyside FBU received a further boost last week when a court ruled against 11 firefighters who had been expelled from the union for breaking rules on “co-responding”—using firefighters as low-cost substitutes for paramedics.
The 11 had tried to sue the FBU for expelling them, but the court ruled that the FBU’s policy against co-responding was quite clear and that they “knew of the consequences of co-responding before volunteering for co-responding duties”.
Other items on the conference agenda this week include a debate about whether the FBU should affiliate to the Labour Party. Links with Labour were cut by the union in the wake of its 2002-3 national pay strike.
Any move to restore these links would make it harder for firefighters to take independent and hard-hitting industrial action against cuts to the fire service. The impetus for the neoliberal restructuring of the fire service comes from New Labour and Gordon Brown.
Another controversy revolves around the voting rights of FBU executive members elected from minority sections such as women and black members. Some delegates want to remove their voting rights, arguing that they are unrepresentative of the union as a whole.
The FBU has a proud record of supporting minority rights. Any move to strip minority representatives of their voting rights would be a step backwards.