The battle for trade union recognition was fought first in London, where for a long time union membership was concentrated.
The London County Council had long opposed any trade union representation for firefighters, a position supported by the government, which wanted to avoid a firefighters’ strike at all costs. Yet the LCC recognised other public sector unions that made up the Municipal Employees’ Association (MEA) and its rival the National Union of Corporation Workers (NUCW), which would become the National Union of Public Employees.
Later the LCC allowed London firemen a “representative body” on condition that it restricted itself to the welfare and conditions of the brigade and would not take part in any labour dispute or induce its members to strike. However, by 1948, with the FBU now the prime representative for professional firefighters and playing an integral part in shaping the post-war service, things had changed dramatically, forcing the LCC to formally recognise the FBU.
The occasion appears to have been celebrated in a January 1948 article in The Firefighter under the heading “London County Council Gives Union Tea-Party”. At a “most pleasant occasion” at County Hall, members of the newly appointed London Fire Brigade Committee of the LCC hosted the London Committee of the FBU at an “informal and very friendly tea-party”, the article states.
LCC council leader Sir Isaac James Hayward and FBU general secretary John Horner attended alongside London organiser Mr (Bro.) Bass. Howard Roberts, clerk to the LCC and “well-known in the fire service”, also attended. The Firefighter humorously states:
“In welcoming back the fire service to London, Mr Hayward emphasised the fact that no longer would the council be dealing with the ‘representative body’. They were glad to have the FBU there.”