Socialist Worker

We need more than 'business as usual' in the union movement

Issue No. 2226

The strikes by London firefighters and Tube workers, and by BBC workers across Britain, are crucial for everyone who wants to defeat the Tories’ assault on working people.

Between them they raise issues of cuts in vital services, job losses, pensions and workers’ rights.

But the firefighters’ strikes have also raised much bigger questions: is the trade union movement going to abandon a group of workers to brutal intimidation and bullying?

Will lies and slander triumph over the truth that firefighters are out for safety and basic rights? Will a privatised, coordinated scabbing operation conquer workers’ solidarity?

The Tories are out to humble the FBU as an example to everyone else.

Soon after Margaret Thatcher came to office in 1979 she fought a steelworkers’ strike to the bitter end for the “demonstration effect” on all workers.

There are Tories who want to do the same to the firefighters now.

They will use every method at their command.

On Monday two firefighters, one of them Ian Leahair from the FBU union executive, were seriously injured by strike-breaking vehicles on the picket line. Imagine the media and political furore if two scabs had been hurt by strikers.


But strikers, it seems, can be knocked down without comment.

And on 26 November, Tory Brian Coleman threatens to start sacking some or all of London’s firefighters. If he can get away with sackings and tearing up agreed conditions at work, it will be a defeat for everyone who wants to stop the cuts.

These are not normal times. “Business as usual” trade unionism based on partnership with the employers—always inadequate—is today pitiful.

When strikers face such a tidal wave of attacks, it requires more than hesitant calls for moderation all round from trade union and Labour leaders.

Trade union leaders, many ominously silent about the fire dispute so far, must be pressured to back the strikes fully.

There has not been a silence from Labour leader Ed Miliband about the strike—he condemned it and agreed it was “irresponsible”.

But many Labour supporters will back the FBU and want to show solidarity.

Strikers need collections, big delegations to the picket lines from trade unions and student unions, campaigns and community groups.

They need invitations to speak at union meetings, messages of support and union resolutions.

But we need more. When the firefighters are on strike there is no proper fire cover in a city of eight million people.

So other groups of workers should discuss following those Tube workers who refuse to work on safety grounds when there is no fire cover.

And we also need to prepare now for much more serious action.

If Coleman sacks firefighters then we need solidarity industrial action in as many places as possible across Britain—even if it has to be unofficial.

An emergency meeting in work time to discuss the implications of what’s happening, a brief stoppage, a total walkout—whatever is possible, plan for it now.

We are all under threat. It’s time to stand together.

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What We Think
Tue 2 Nov 2010, 18:06 GMT
Issue No. 2226
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