THERE IS a mounting revolt in the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) at attempts to railroad through swingeing attacks on conditions demanded by the employers. 'I've not come across a single branch that has voted in favour of surrendering the conditions the employers are attacking,' says Dean Mills, secretary of the Southern Region of the FBU, which does not have a reputation for militancy.
By the beginning of this week most brigades in that region had already called for a firm no vote in a snap consultative ballot called by the union's national leaders. They are not alone. Increasing numbers of firefighters and control staff are drawing the line at further attacks on their conditions in the wake of last year's pay dispute.
Among those areas calling for rejecting the employers' demands in the ballot are Scotland, Northern Ireland, Merseyside, Cheshire, Lancashire, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Humberside, East Midlands, East Anglia, London, and the Southern and Northern regions. That is despite the union's national executive refusing to issue a recommendation to reject.
Indeed, the ballot paper is accompanied by a letter from FBU general secretary which effectively invites a vote to accept the employers' attacks. In several regions and areas of the union, such as the retained (part time) section, delegates have overturned their executive committee representatives who voted for a ballot on the attacks rather than resisting them outright. The vote on the executive was nine for a ballot and eight for resistance.
'The feeling among the rank and file has changed,' says Andy Brickles from the FBU in the East Midlands. 'People went along with the executive's last consultative ballot last year because they didn't really know what the consequences would be, and they wanted to get the pay rise they had been promised.
'Now the consequences are clear, and in brigade after brigade we are facing cuts through the introduction of new plans for fire cover which were part of settling the national pay dispute. 'We should urge the biggest possible no vote in this ballot. A majority of regions and sections are now opposed, and we have to put pressure on executive members to reflect that.'
The scale of the cuts fire bosses want was revealed in Merseyside this week. The fire authority wants to slash 150 jobs. 'We heard about it in the way civil servants heard of Gordon Brown's job losses,' says Les Skarratts, secretary of the FBU in Merseyside. 'The job losses were buried in a report handed to us before a meeting with the fire authority.'
Firefighters and control staff in Mid and West Wales are balloting for strikes over the sacking of a colleague. He was sacked using sickness procedures. His own doctors said he was unfit to return to work, but the brigade said he was and sacked him when he refused to go back ill. There are other similar cases elsewhere in Britain.
Neil Macpherson, secretary of Mid and West Wales FBU, says, 'We've just had a national strike, and no one wants to do this lightly. 'But after the way our member has been treated no one feels safe. Management could twist these procedures to get any one of us sacked.'