The first annual meeting for black members sought to formally address issues facing them. Frustration and anger among black firefighters at the meeting were palpable.
Delegates spoke of a culture of racism in Britain that has become ingrained in the fire service, not just between work colleagues but also in the communities they served. The meeting heard how management’s efforts to promote equality were merely a paper exercise and lacked conviction or understanding of the problems faced by black members.
In certain instances, black members raising concerns would be the ones to be moved by management instead of the harasser, which, delegates argued, failed to confront the problem. Some black members were even posted to watches or stations with a poor track record on treating minority groups.
One way to challenge the isolation felt by black members was to set up a network with colleagues exchanging numbers to help support them if they were victimised.
Education was cited as an essential tool in combating racism, which delegates argued was the responsibility of management. Management was also called upon to uphold their legal requirement against racism in line with their intolerance of drink driving or drug taking. Sheffield delegate Malcolm Cumberbatch introduced group sessions that highlighted the importance of black people becoming more active in the union. The shortage of representation in certain areas was also addressed.
The meeting heard how racism in the fire service must never go unchallenged. It was important that the FBU won the confidence of black members so that it could adequately support them. It was also claimed that management sought to block black members from attending the meeting, either by denying them leave or preventing it from being promoted.
The meeting concluded with the sentiment that equality is not a black, feminist or gay issue but about treating human beings as human beings.