In the FBU’s fight for trade union recognition, the Labour home secretary Herbert Morrison granted this right after abandoning representative boards in May 1942.
This success, however, was dampened by Morrison’s refusal to give firefighters the right to hold trade union meetings at fire stations - later abandoned - while also denying them the right to collectively represent officer members.
This was partly because the Home Office instead recognised the “company union” – the National Fire Service Officers’ Association (NFSOA) – which represented all male and, later, female officers. The FBU viewed this “company union” as a government attempt to combat its growing membership and support.
However, since the nationalisation of the fire service, which had previously come under the responsibility of local authorities, some of the union’s most talented activists had been promoted to officer level, leaving the union determined to make collective representation on behalf of officers.
So in June the union formed an officers’ section and attempted, but failed, to get the Home Office to recognise it, despite huge pressure from the TUC for the government to do so. The government argued that it would be too difficult to have to deal with two separate organisations and said that it would impair discipline.
So, although officers were not banned from joining the FBU, and the union was able to support individual members, it could not make any representations on their conditions of service.
But this was not to last. By 1947 the union’s officers section had over 350 members and, with continued support from the TUC, future home secretary Chuter Ede insisted that the union could not be excluded from the officers’ panel of the National Joint Council.