Socialist Worker

Labour's flaming contempt for firefighters

by Kevin Ovenden
Issue No. 1913

NEW LABOUR ministers and their stooge councillors have wrecked a national pay deal in order to pursue a vendetta against firefighters and their union.

It is a potent symbol of the contempt Blair’s crew holds for working people and their organisations.

The government packed a fire service employers’ meeting on Monday with seven London Labour councillors in order to vote down an agreement local authorities had reached with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

Not one of those councillors has ever sat on a fire authority. They were drafted in to scupper a deal and leave the FBU with no alternative but to begin balloting next week for fresh strikes over pay and conditions.

The stooge seven voted with Tory councillors on the national body to tip the balance against a settlement by 13 votes to ten.

In a move that had to have cabinet backing, fire service minister Nick Raynsford threatened to withhold £30 million of funding unless the councillors’ body voted for the government’s vindictive attack.

Raynsford infamously accused firefighters and control staff of “criminal irresponsibility” for striking 20 months ago.

Now he has deliberately provoked a confrontation as part of the government’s war on all public sector workers.

The seven stooge councillors make up the ugly face of New Labour.

Two of them, Ian Corbett and Andrew Baikie, are in the cabinet in Newham council, east London.

Corbett gets an annual “allowance” of £28,000 of public money. Baikie gets £33,000. Both sums are more than what a fully qualified London firefighter gets for risking their life.

Newham’s Labour-run council and its mayor, Sir Robin Wales, have tried to effectively derecognise their workers’ union, Unison.

Corbett and Baikie are notorious among Newham council workers for their anti-union views.

New Labour’s latest attack on the firefighters comes after TUC leaders welcomed a recent Labour policy meeting as a sign that the government was listening to the unions.

The TUC was central to brokering the talks that led to this week’s abandoned deal.

The government’s offensive also comes a fortnight after Blair hypocritically stood up in parliament to pay tribute to two London firefighters.

Adam Meere and Bill Faust were tragically killed on duty in a fire in Bethnal Green.

They were fatally injured in the early hours of the morning, the time the government accuses firefighters of being paid for doing nothing.

The assault on the FBU coincides with the government’s campaign against civil service workers and their PCS union.

Blair ought to face defeat on both fronts.

That means everyone standing with the firefighters and civil service workers.

Above all, it means the leaders of the big unions, who make on-off criticisms of the government, coordinating action to stop the New Labour wreckers.

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Article information

Sat 7 Aug 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1913
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