FIREFIGHTERS and staff in control rooms cheered this week when news came through that their FBU union executive had refused to bow to New Labour's bullying and was going ahead with planned strikes. Rank and file feeling outweighed heavy pressure on the executive members to end all the action and get trapped in talks that were going nowhere fast.
Graham Tranquade, the FBU chair of Region 10 (East Anglia) told Socialist Worker, 'I have absolutely no doubt that it was the correct decision to proceed with the strikes this week. We have no choice but to take the fight to the government because what we get from ministers is hot air and harsh words. They have not been moved by what we have done so far. The FBU membership is up for the strikes and the public support is still there. On the picket lines last time there was just as much backing from people who went past as ever. Firefighters know there is no future in the recommendations that came out of the Bain report. It means a totally inadequate pay deal, job cuts and an assault upon the service. I hope workers everywhere will continue to support us.'
The government stepped up its bluster and threats after the last strike. It let it be known that it was preparing legal action against the union and its leader Andy Gilchirst under the updated version of the 'master and servants' act.
This makes strikes illegal if they involve workers 'maliciously' putting lives at risk. Incredibly in some parts of the country there were suggestions that firefighters had fallen foul of the law by NOT picketing and therefore not being available in case of a major fire.
Islington FBU rep Paul Emburey told Socialist Worker, 'Thank goodness this week's strikes went ahead. Before this we suspended 28 days of strikes. Instead of coming closer towards our claim, the government brought forward progressively worse offers. Their agenda includes 4,500 job losses, closures and tearing up shift patterns. It is absolutely clear that more hard-hitting strike action is needed. We need to look again at the strategy the union has been following. There should be no more strikes called off until there is a genuinely improved offer from the employers and the government.'
The government is escalating in order to try to crush the firefighters. Disgracefully, John Prescott said on Monday that the pay offer is going to get worse every time the firefighters strike. He raised doubts that the employers could now fund the derisory 11.3 percent offer over two years even if it was linked to 'modernisation'.
Prescott went on to tell a Commons select committee that the firefighters' strikes would mean less money for 'the deprived and vulnerable in our communities'.
This government is about to waste billions on war and it refuses to tax the rich. Yet it tries to blame ordinary working people who demand their rights for the problems in society.
Firefighters can win. The fact the government has not dared to use the law against the strikes shows their nervousness about the mood in Britain. But as the government steps up the attacks, firefighters also need to escalate. A smattering of strikes is not going to be enough.
FBU leaders need to up the action and demand full solidarity from the rest of the trade union movement.
EVERY DAY of the pay campaign has increased FBU members' anger against the government. It would be quite wrong, as some of the union leadership are suggesting, to postpone the union's conference this year.
There needs to be the chance for every member to have an input into discussing the fight for pay and to defend the service. There also needs to be debate about how the union uses its political fund and about its relationship with New Labour.
Profit from station closures
MANY TOWN and city centre fire stations will close under the next phase of the government's plans for the service. It is part of a lethal package of job cuts, fewer fire stations and punishing shift patterns.
Deputy prime minister John Prescott has asked all 58 fire authorities to draw up 'risk assessment' reports within the next six months. These would be used to trigger closures. The Times reported, 'Redundant fire stations in expensive locations could represent particularly lucrative opportunities for land-hungry developers. One of the plum sites for residential conversion would be the station on King's Road, Chelsea. It would have a value of £100 million.'
John Hunter, the managing director of development firm Northacre, says, 'There is plenty of scope for a grand acquisition of a portfolio of fire stations. 'At Chelsea, with retail on the ground floor and residential above, it is a perfect site for a plaza-style scheme. It's on our radar screen.'
Prescott wants to sweep away the law which requires fire authorities to get government permission before they close stations.
The FBU is preparing a legal challenge. Union officials point out that changing this law needs consultation. Prescott says that submission to the Bain review was sufficient 'consultation'.
DEMONSTRATE Support the firefighters
Saturday 1 Feb, 12 noon Blythswood Square, Glasgow Called by the FBU, supported by the Scottish TUC
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