London’s firefighters face a false choice of two “offers” after arbitration to end their dispute this week. They should vote to reject both.
The offers were put forward on Monday of this week after the firefighters’ FBU union and London fire brigade bosses put proposals to the RAP arbitration panel.
One deal would see the firefighters work a 10.5-hour day shift and a 13.5-hour night shift.
These hours come with strings attached: firefighters would have to also agree to “direct standbys”.
This would mean firefighters taking their kit home with them and being told to work from any station within 7.5 miles—all for a derisory £35 payment.
The other deal is for an even worse 11-hour day and 13-hour night, but with fewer strings—for now.
The union has decided to recommend the first, “strings” option.
But the truth is both deals are far worse compared to what firefighters currently have—a safe shift system of a 9-hour day and a 15-hour night. So why should they vote for either?
This result from the RAP shows the union leaders made the wrong call when they recommended the FBU did not go ahead with its third wave of strikes on 5 November, and instead went to arbitration.
It is true that the union has won some concessions from the bosses, who wanted two equal 12-hour shifts.
But the FBU had all the momentum in the run-up to Bonfire Night.
Had it gone ahead with the strike and organised mass pickets across London it could have destroyed the scabbing operation and forced fire boss Brian Coleman to back down.
There was the potential to win a huge victory. Now Coleman says “I strongly welcome the proposals.” And why wouldn’t he?
The so-called “independent” chair of the arbitration panel was Cambridge don Professor William Brown, the master of Darwin College.
The union had argued that the arbitrator would “split the difference” between its position and the bosses’ one.
But one of the offers is the same position that the bosses’ side went into the talks with.
On top of that, many issues remain unresolved. London still hasn’t got back the 27 fire engines that bosses stole and stashed away for scabs during the strikes.
Many firefighters are still losing big chunks of their pay as bosses “punish” them for taking action short of a strike. And some firefighters who struck are still suspended from work.
In the union’s consultative ballot, members need to reject the false choice that has been put in front of them—and take the “third option” to say no to both.
Then they need to pile on the pressure to get the strikes back on.