Paul Woolstenholmes has won the election for National Officer in the FBU. He got 52% of the vote in a three-way contest with the previous National Officer, Mike Lawson, and Bob Pounder.
Lawson played a leading role in the conduct of the year-long FBU fight for a living wage which collapsed toward the end of last year in return for a 3.5% pay rise. This result is widely seen as a victory for those who wanted the fight to be continued and fought with more militancy.
Woolstenholmes, from Suffolk, has been a leading critic of the agreements made between the FBU officials and the employers, and has been a regular contributor to the rank and file FBU website, www.30kfirepay.co.uk
The turn-out in the ballot wasn't high, with only 17,449 papers being returned, and there are many reports of firefighters leaving the union over the mishandling of the pay dispute. It will take more than one election victory for a rebel to transform the union, and as others have found in other unions, getting elected to such a position is only the first battle for candidates of the rank and file.
The real challenge facing the FBU's new National Officer, and his colleagues throughout the union, is that of rebuilding militancy in the face of continued attacks from employers seeking to capitalise on the defeat imposed on the firefighters last year. Unless the union can show some backbone in the next few months, there could well be a wholesale attack on conditions of service, working arrangements and even staffing levels, which firefighters will struggle to combat.
And the chances of that backbone depend largely on whether or not the various initiatives being taken at a rank and file level can be fused into an organised rank and file movement.
The signs are promising, with organisers of the Vote of No Confidence campaign reporting that they are close to securing the one-third of brigades needed to force a national ballot of No Confidence in the existing Executive Committee, and continued discussion amongst the various opposition groups.
But time is running out - firefighters need a rank and file movement now!