The Fire Brigades Union has always been at the forefront of the civil rights movement against racial discrimination.
As early as 1945, a resolution at the union’s conference urged affiliated organisations and members to lose no opportunity in exposing and combating the “evils” of the colour bar, which banned black workers from certain jobs. In 1954, the FBU was also the only union to have a resolution at the TUC Congress on Britain’s colonial policy.
Condemning the policy of the present government, directed by Tory colonial secretary Oliver Lyttelton, as one “which has worsened Britain’s relations with colonial people all over the world", the motion called for “a policy which provides in the colonial countries for higher living standards, full trade union and democratic rights, abolition of the colour bar”. The FBU conference that year also heard from a fraternal delegate from West Africa, Obi Ibeneme, who spoke on the issue, and the union was affiliated to the Movement for Colonial Freedom.
At a conference held in the capital in 1955 on the subject of immigration and workers from the colonies, London branch delegate Tom Branch said the union welcomed black members:
“We have an agreement with the London County Council (LCC) that they will not bar coloured firemen from the London fire brigade. I cannot think that London citizens will raise any objection. There can’t be any colour bar in the fire service.”
The union’s policy was to welcome as members any black people who came into the job. Reiterating this in a 1962 issue of The Firefighter, an editorial read:
“In these times, this journal will fight against any support for racialism. The union’s policy is clear. It was settled by annual conference. We totally oppose any suggestion of colour prejudice and the hatred it breeds. The entry qualifications laid down by regulations must apply equally to all applicants no matter what the colour of their skins.”