IN A vindictive move worthy of Margaret Thatcher, the government passed the Fire Service Bill into law last week. It gives government ministers the power to impose pay and conditions on firefighters and emergency control staff.
'It's a major piece of anti-union legislation and it's from a Labour government,' says Graham Noakes from the FBU union in Essex. The government has rushed through the new law even though FBU national leaders got their members to accept a poor deal ending the firefighters' pay dispute earlier this year.
'It goes to show the choice was never between us accepting a bad deal or having it imposed on us,' says Graham Noakes. 'The union did accept it, and still we have got this new law.' The move is designed to intimidate FBU members who are currently voting on the latest demands from their employers.
But it would be a very dangerous step for the government to use the new law to impose a settlement. It would produce an even deeper breach with the unions, and mean that any dispute in the fire service would directly drag in the government. The latest Red Watch rank and file paper for FBU members argues strongly to reject the employers' shopping list of attacks. It also highlights the unresolved cases of victimisation of union activists arising from last year's strikes.
A keynote article by Paul Woolstenholmes, secretary of the FBU in Suffolk, outlines a strategy to stop the headlong slide towards surrendering hard-won terms and conditions.
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