ANGER SPREAD through rank and file Fire Brigades Union (FBU) activists at the end of last week as they heard that a recently elected national officer, Paul Woolstenholmes, has been suspended from his post by the union’s leadership.
He was elected as part of an ongoing revolt in the FBU at the way the national leadership has conducted the pay campaign.
Activists are convinced his suspension is aimed at heading off any further challenge to the rest of the union’s national officials and executive members.
While suspended, Paul Woolstenholmes cannot stand for election to any other position. An election is expected for assistant general secretary.
Other local officials and activists fear that they could be witch-hunted in order to stop them standing in elections.
“The impact is wider than just some officials and is about more than future elections,” says Neale Williams from the FBU in north London and editor of the Red Watch rank and file paper. “This is happening just as the union is supposed to be gearing up for a new strike ballot at the end of next month.
“Activists and local officials are demanding the suspension is lifted and the whole union’s effort put into fighting over pay and in defence of our conditions as the conference voted for two weeks ago.
“That is the central issue for every firefighter and control operator, and it ought to be at every level of the union.”
The suspension is widely seen as part of an attack on any attempt to organise rank and file opposition to the leadership’s strategy.
At the recent FBU conference about 100 people attended a fringe meeting hosted by Red Watch. This was supported by three of the union’s regions and its black and ethnic minority members section.
There was a similar number at a meeting called by the Grassroots grouping.
“There is a lot of discussion about the future of the union, and rightly so,” says Neale Williams. “That debate resulted in the conference voting not to cave in to the employers and to resist. The president said at the opening of the conference that whatever policy was passed, the whole union should unite around it. That’s right and it means the suspension should be immediately lifted.”
FBU members in London have voted by 74 percent to 26 percent for industrial action over attempts to force them to substitute for the ambulance service. The turnout was 54 percent.