The union joined the ranks of the Trade Union Congress, giving firefighters a voice in steering the organisation’s campaigns for issues affecting them.
Arguably membership was the first victory for the FTU in its fight to establish itself and become the primary union representing firefighters. Virtually since the union’s affiliation the FTU, and later the FBU, has been associated with the left of the TUC’s trade unions, and indeed of the Labour Party. However, before the Second World War the union was a small organisation with limited representation and therefore unable to contribute as much as it would have liked.
It was in the Second World War period that the FBU began to be greatly influenced by Britain’s Communist Party. The union’s wartime general secretary, John Horner, became a member and the Communist association caused a divisive relationship between the union and the TUC. This was to dramatically change in 1956, when Horner and the vast majority of FBU members of the Communist Party left in protest at the Soviet invasion of Hungary.
With the union gathering strength thanks to a growing membership in the 1940s, the FBU adopted a high profile at TUC conferences. As an affiliate the FBU was able to call on the TUC for assistance during times of trouble, particularly during the war, although they frequently clashed over wages policy.
It was during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath, however, that relations between the two organisations were at their closest. The TUC sent regular delegations on behalf of the FBU to government, which was crucial in further establishing the union and gaining recognition for its officers’ section.
By the TUC’s 100th conference in 1969, FBU general secretary Terry Parry was elected to its general council. This was a great achievement by a relatively small union, the culmination of a journey begun when the FTU first affiliated in 1923. The FBU had progressed from an insignificant member to holding key positions in both the TUC and STUC as well as on a variety of influential committees.