The Firemen’s Charter was a campaign like nothing the trade union movement had ever seen at the time, in that it appealed directly to the country for popular support.
The government refused to pay auxiliary firefighters who formed part of its National Fire Service (NFS) the same wage rate as regulars, which was one of the FBU’s key demands in talks with the Home Office. As a result the union’s executive decided to launch a national campaign dubbed The Firemen’s Charter, which outlined five key fighting points: a national minimum wage of £4 a week; full pay while sick or injured; a fair discipline code; a two-platoon system or a maximum working week of 72 hours; and promotion on merit. In its appeal to the British public, the Charter concluded:
“In this people’s war we ask you, the people, to take a hand with us to make a New Model firefighting army.”
The massive campaign, which took place in October and November of 1941, saw hundreds of mass public meetings to gain support, campaigners spending a week in each district, and concluded with a large London demonstration and a parliamentary debate.
The campaign sought cross-party support by inviting MPs of all shades, who were sent copies of the Charter, to address branch meetings. Concerts, film screenings, boxing matches and dances were held as part of the campaign, and. prominent playwrights like George Bernard Shaw, J. B. Priestley and Sean O’Casey addressed rallies and wrote articles in support of the Charter.
Undoubtedly because of this groundswell of support, the campaign led in February 1942 to a pay increase of 4 shillings and an improvement in sickness and injury policy; it also attracted more firefighters into the profession. The FBU represented over 90% of full-time professionals and 70% of the 100,000 full-time auxiliaries.
The Charter campaign also led to the firewomen’s equivalent, agreed at the national women’s conference in 1943, for equal pay, equal work, proper training and improved conditions.