Socialist Worker

Firefighters

by Kevin Ovenden
Issue No. 1917

FIRE AUTHORITY employers have finally agreed to pay firefighters and control staff pay rises under the deal that ended last year’s dispute.

It took just quarter of an hour at a meeting last week for the employers to agree to pay a 3.5 percent rise (due last November) and a 4.2 percent rise (due from July).

At the last meeting with Fire Brigades Union (FBU) national officials a few weeks ago, New Labour packed the employers’ negotiating team with stooges to scupper any agreement.

Last week’s climbdown came in the face of mounting evidence that FBU members were to deliver a resounding vote this week for fresh strikes.

“There’s absolutely no doubt it was the determination of rank and file members that forced the employers and government to back off from trying to completely humiliate the union,” says Tam McFarlane from the FBU’s South West Region.

“The union has agreed to a new form of words over working arrangements on public holidays. But there is a real sense that we have taken a stand and been proved right,” he adds.

“It’s a vindication for the rank and file,” says Justin Thomas from the FBU in Wiltshire. “We only had a ballot for strikes because delegates to our national conference overturned the leadership and refused to cave in to the employers’ demands.

“That is now something we have to build on. Imagine what could have been achieved if our national leadership was committed to a serious fight with the employers and government, rather than looking for compromise.”

The new form of words covering public holidays accepts that they are not normal working days. But it does call on firefighters to undertake a full range of duties arising from new, localised fire cover plans on those days.

“The union should not have given that away,” says Yusuf Timms from the FBU in west London. “We are going to have to resist brigade by brigade as management try to squeeze more out of us.

“But this was never simply about public holidays, or what work we do at night. It was about whether the union was just going to roll over and die in the face of New Labour.

“Let’s also remember that if there had been no agreement then the government was facing an autumn with fights on at least two fronts—us and the civil servants.

“Settling with us means the government has got a freer hand to go for the PCS union. Every FBU member should acknowledge that and should give maximum solidarity to the PCS.”


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News
Sat 4 Sep 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1917
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