SOME 50,000 firefighters and emergency control operators were to begin balloting this week for fresh strikes over their long-running pay campaign.
Responsibility for any stoppages, which could take place next month, lies squarely with New Labour, which intervened to wreck a deal last week.
Local authority employers have now said they will not formally meet the leaders of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) until after the ballot result is known.
“It’s vital we get a strong yes vote,” says Neale Williams from the Red Watch rank and file paper. “The government has clearly signalled it wants to break us as an example to other public sector unions.
“Even the concessions our union leaders have made in talks, which were too much for most activists, have not been enough for New Labour.
“The whole union needs to understand just what is at stake. Talks and using strike votes as a negotiating tactic have got us nowhere. We have no alternative but to fight.”
The government’s offensive against the FBU has divided local authority employers.
The chair of the employers’ body, Christina Jebb, was sacked last week when she told the BBC she had voted to accept the deal, which New Labour stooge councillors were sent in to scupper.
As well as divisions on the bosses’ side, the government also faces a head on confrontation with the civil service workers’ PCS union.
That means the FBU is in a strong position to deliver co-ordinated action with hundreds of thousands of other workers. That would provide a big focus for solidarity across the unions.