Socialist Worker

‘We won’t accept cuts’ is message to government from union conferences

by Matthew Cookson and Tom Walker
Issue No. 2203

Two union conferences last week showed the overwhelming mood to fight the coming onslaught of cuts.

Delegates to the PCS civil service workers’ union and the FBU firefighters’ union conferences sent a defiant message of opposition to plans to slash public services.

Both conferences also saw a strong mood for unions to join together when they take action to resist cuts.

The civil service will be in the frontline of this battle.

“There is a monster with two heads coming over the hill—one Tory and one Lib Dem,” Hugh Lanning, the PCS deputy general secretary, told its conference.

“It has no clear mandate but it is uniting to cut public services. We need to unite together in a coalition of trade union and social movements to fight the cuts together.”

The conference voted for a motion calling for co-ordinated action with different unions and a TUC-backed national demonstration against cuts and privatisation.

Unity

“We have to fight together or be defeated separately,” said Fran Heathcote of DWP Northumbria.

“It is not inevitable that the cuts will be pushed through—the key thing is the response of the trade union movement.” she added.

The mood for unity was echoed by the 200 plus delegates at the firefighters’ conference.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said, “The new government wants to unleash an ‘age of austerity’.

“It is a cuts coalition that will attack working class living standards in a way we haven’t seen since the early days of Margaret Thatcher.

“We expect this government to attack the fire and rescue service like never before.

“We need to build unity across the movement, co-ordinating action where necessary.”

FBU delegates, like those at PCS conference, voted for co-ordinated public sector action to defeat the cuts.

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Firefighters pledged to fight any pay freeze or attacks on their terms and conditions.

FBU president Mick Shaw told the conference, “If our members do not get a pay increase this year they will get an effective pay cut of 5.5 percent.

“They’re demanding people like us make sacrifices. But the people at the head of the banks aren’t going to be making sacrifices—they’re still paying themselves huge bonuses.”

And Matt Wrack predicted that firefighters would go into battle over pay within the next few years.

“The bosses will have a hell of a fight on their hands,” he said.

The cuts have already started.

In Merseyside firefighters are currently taking industrial action short of a strike over staffing cuts.

Mark Dunne of Merseyside FBU told Socialist Worker, “For the last seven months we’ve had an overtime ban.

“The service was so understaffed that they were trying to make people work large amounts of overtime instead of recruiting.

“There are empty spaces on every fire engine in Merseyside.”

Mark Serwotka, the PCS general secretary, was unable to attend the union’s conference as he is recovering from a heart condition. But he sent a message paying tribute to union members and other public sector workers


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