“THE BALLOT is on, and now we have to deliver an overwhelming vote for action.”
That was the response of Andy Brickles, secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in the East Midlands, to news that New Labour has scuppered any chance of a deal in the long-running firefighters’ pay dispute.
Many activists had worried last week that the outline of a deal between their union leaders and the employers (representatives of local councils) opened the door to further attacks on their conditions.
Others had resigned themselves to the retreats their union leaders had made over the last 18 months. But as it emerged on Monday of this week that New Labour had packed a meeting with stooge councillors in order to rip up the agreement, there was universal anger.
“This is beyond trying to humiliate us,” says Tam McFarlane from the FBU’s South West Region. “It should be absolutely clear to everyone at all levels of the union that we have no alternative but to fight.
“We’ve learned lessons from the last strikes. We need much more hard-hitting action.
“We also need solidarity. That means looking to other groups of workers that are on the receiving end of this Thatcherite government, such as the civil servants, and coordinating action with them.
“I’ve had stations ring up, saying they want to simply walk out now.
“The union needs to build on that mood.
“There’s been a lot of disappointment over the last year or so. Now there’s a chance to turn everything round so long as we throw ourselves into the fight.”
“The strategy group advising the executive needs to meet quickly,” says Andy Brickles.
“The TUC, which had sponsored the deal, needs to reconvene its general council and issue unequivocal support for our strike ballot.
“There’s going to be a propaganda war. Our side needs to come out fighting now.”
A similar message echoed round stations and control rooms across Britain and Northern Ireland on Monday afternoon and evening.
It was combined with a greater awareness among rank and file FBU members that they have to build up a huge head of steam from below in order to prevent the kind of wobbling at the top of the union that wrecked the pay fight 18 months ago.