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Left victory in firefighters' union
LEFT-WING candidate Matt Wrack has won a bitterly fought contest for the assistant general secretary position in the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). His victory over John McGhee will be welcomed by Left activists inside the FBU and other unions.
The election for general secretary of the union will now begin on 7 February. It is widely expected that the contest for this post will be between the incumbent Andy Gilchrist and Matt Wrack.
In a bruising contest which saw red scare and witch-hunting tactics from much of the union officialdom, Matt Wrack defeated John McGhee by 6,260 votes to 5,527. Another Left candidate, Dean Mills, received 1,981 votes. The turnout was just over 25%.
The result follows one week after the election of Left candidate Christine Blower as deputy general secretary in the National Union of Teachers.
John McGhee was seen as Andy Gilchrist's chosen successor. If he had won this election then it was speculated that Gilchrist - who was widely discredited in the union after the setbacks of the national strike action in 2002/2003 - would have stepped aside to allow McGhee to be frontrunner for the general secretary position.
However, McGhee was rightly seen as the hardline of the union bureaucracy who have been behind suspensions of left-wing national officials and witch-hunts in the union against activists grouped around the Grassroots FBU.
Red scares and muckraking, which were common features of the campaign against Matt Wrack in particular, have rebounded on this layer of officials who were desperately trying to cling on to any influence they had in the union after they were discredited over their handling of the firefighters' strike in 2002-2003.
The votes of Matt Wrack and Dean Mills shows that there is now a harder, more critical Left in the union - a fact also shown by the decision last year to disaffiliate the union from the Labour Party.
There was a hope amongst many on the Left that there would not have been two Left candidate standing in this election, because of the necessity to stop McGhee who would have imposed a much more autocratic regime in the union. Nevertheless, McGhee has now been defeated and it is likely that Matt Wrack will be the sole Left challenge to Gilchrist for general secretary.
At the same time as Matt's election there has been the development of a hard-Left group on the National Executive, which Matt Wrack will need to work with and help develop if the union is to be transformed into a fighting and more democratic organisation.
A prerequisite for this will be the sweeping away of the rules that were introduced by Stalinists in the 1950s. They prohibit effective organisation of Left groups inside the union and do not allow candidates to canvass or advance their industrial and political programme in elections.
However, Matt and others on the Left in the union will also have to ensure that firefighters' confidence about winning industrial struggles is restored. An essential first step towards this could be a successful ballot for strike action on pensions alongside other unions on 23 March.
In The Socialist 12 February 2005: