ACTIVISTS IN the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) met in Birmingham on Wednesday of this week to prepare for a planned recalled conference next Tuesday. But the FBU executive was to meet later this week to consider calling off the conference and seeking yet more tiny changes to the terrible deal the employers have offered.
Calling off the conference would deny FBU members the chance to flatly reject the employers' demands. It would take away an opportunity to assert rank and file control over the dispute and reaffirm the principles of the pay claim firefighters and control staff have struck for.
Reports from FBU branch meetings across Britain show there is an overwhelming feeling to reject the offer. But the FBU leadership recommended it to a previous recalled conference three weeks ago.
Repeatedly calling off planned strikes over the last four months has dented firefighters' confidence. Activists know they face a battle to get strikes back on. The FBU general secretary has already issued a circular which says next week's conference will have to consider the offer carefully at just the same time deputy prime minister John Prescott is threatening to change the law to impose it.
'Caving in under that threat and accepting an offer which is unacceptable to 99 percent of FBU members would be a terrible surrender,' says Neale Williams from the FBU in north London.
'If Prescott dared to move to impose the offer, it would generate deep anger on stations and would be a challenge to every union leader. There is a chance to mobilise the anger at the way the Labour government has treated us. That's a better bet than capitulating now. And being in a weaker position to resist an offensive from chief officers and employers.'
One sign of that offensive is the move by the fire authority in Wiltshire to merge control operations for the fire brigade and ambulance service. FBU members have voted by 58 percent to strike over the issue. That ballot was conducted in a small brigade after the war had started. That shows the potential to renew the national pay campaign.