There was a strong mood of simmering anger against New Labour at the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) annual conference held in Southport, Merseyside, last week.
The conference passed motions threatening strike action on a range of issues, including pay, pensions and the threat of redundancies hanging over fire control centre staff.
FBU members also reaffirmed their decision to disaffiliate from the Labour Party, taken in the wake of the government’s betrayal of firefighters during their 2002-3 national strike over pay.
In past years there have been attempts to reverse that decision, or at least to pave the way back to reaffiliation.
But this year if anything the mood had hardened against Labour.
Since the national strike, both the government and local authority employers around the country have launched a range of attacks on firefighters’ terms and conditions.
The latest blow was a judicial decision backing a government ruling that stripped pensions from firefighters who have retired from the service due to injury at work.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, condemned the ruling and said the FBU was negotiating with the government to reverse it – but would ballot for strike action if these talks did not deliver.
The conference also voted for national strike action if fire authorities did not award pay increases that kept pace with rising inflation.
Matt Wrack stressed this theme at fringe meeting backed by the union’s London and Merseyside regions entitled “Where Now For The Left?”.
He pointed out how both pay and pensions were issues affecting all public sector workers and applauded the joint strike action taken on 24 April by teachers, civil service workers and lecturers.
Another issue that could trigger strike action in the fire service is the plans to merge fire control centres across the country into regional “super centres”.
FBU activists warned that these plans are a prelude to further regionalisation and will lead to compulsory redundancies among fire control staff – something the union is strongly opposed to.
The restructuring plans in fire control are part of a wider pattern of neoliberal cuts to the fire service and attacks on firefighters by bullying managers.
The union also pledged support for the national demonstration against the fascist British National Party (see page 2), as well as backing the campaigns to defend abortion rights against renewed right wing threats.