Socialist Worker

post bosses go on a sick offensive

Issue No. 1758

Merseyside fire fight

Striking defence of union

FIREFIGHTERS AND control room staff on Merseyside have begun a major strike campaign.

An eight-day strike began on Friday of last week, when Fire Brigades Union (FBU) delegations from across Britain and Northern Ireland joined a thousands-strong march through Liverpool.

It showed the national significance of the fight. Firefighters are defending themselves and their union from a vicious management offensive.

Merseyside firefighter Kevin Hughes says, "If the chief officer, Malcolm Saunders, gets away with tearing up national conditions and procedures here, then every chief and fire authority will follow him."

There was already immense bitterness among Merseyside firefighters before the current dispute.

"You don't get an 83 percent vote for strikes if people are just concerned about a couple of issues," said Merseyside firefighter Albie Lythgoe.

"Morale has been rock bottom. But in the run-up to the strike it has felt like living under a dictatorship that is beginning to crack."

Anger increased as sections of the media repeated the lie that people were striking against employing women, black people and ethnic minorities in senior positions in the Merseyside fire brigade.

Dozens of firefighters and control room staff-black and white, male and female-told Socialist Worker that the claim was a filthy smear by the chief officer and fire authority.

Vicky Knight is a Merseyside firefighter and secretary of the FBU's national women's committee.

She told Socialist Worker, "Saunders wants to break national agreements on recruitment to bring people into management posts who have no experience of firefighting. It would mean having people in charge of major incidents instructing people to enter buildings with breathing apparatus when they themselves have no experience of using it. The national disputes panel unanimously agreed with the union that this was wrong-so even the employers' representatives voted with ours. But still Saunders is pushing ahead with it. He is using the fact that he wants to bring in a woman and a black person as a smokescreen to cover this attack on the union. As a woman firefighter I am furious. The FBU has been fighting for years for equal opportunities."

Peter Rogers is a black firefighter on Merseyside. He told Socialist Worker, "We are for recruiting more women and black people-there is under-representation. But to address that you have to recruit, full stop. And they have not been recruiting over the last three years. The chief's last special recruitment plan was for bringing in military personnel. All 20 were white men. That shows what hypocrisy it is for him now to be saying he is for equal opportunities. We stopped that plan, just as we will stop this. There are large numbers of black people and women on Merseyside who would love to work in the fire brigade. "Recruiting them is the way to change things, not through tokenism at the top which is used as an excuse to attack the whole workforce."

Saunders is out to break the FBU and is capable of anything-including sackings and victimisations.

FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist told the Liverpool rally, "If Saunders sacks 1,400 FBU members, or 100, or even one, then there isn't going to be a fire service in Britain as a result immediately."

That threat of national action brought the loudest cheers of the day. It reflected a determination not to see Merseyside fight alone. That should be built on now by getting striking Merseyside firefighters in to brigades and stations across Britain.

Merseyside can win, and quickly, if steps are taken now to up the strikes and build solidarity to prepare the ground for national action.


post bosses go on a sick offensive

POSTAL workers are on the verge of a national strike ballot after Royal Mail threatened to slash sick pay, cut thousands of jobs and break job security agreements.

The sick-pay cuts are part of the mentality which wants to drive workers harder and faster to pump out ever more profit.

When bosses and union leaders worked to ram the "Way Forward" agreement through last year, they pointed to a new sick-pay deal as a big improvement. It promised that people who were ill would get basic pay plus their allowances.

These allowances are worth around �50 a week on top of the basic pay of �240. From September Royal Mail now wants to pay new staff just the legal minimum of �62.50 a week for the first two years of employment. This is a cut of over �230 a week!

A leaked letter said new recruits are the worst "offenders" over sickness. It is a disgrace for fat cat bosses on �100,000 a year to attack the sickness record of workers who suffer fierce stress and pressure.

Many postal workers start in the early morning, are often outside in all weathers.

The CWU union's postal executive is meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

Deputy general secretary John Keggie says, "I will be making recommendations which may involve a national ballot for industrial action." At the same time Consignia (the bosses' stupid name for the Post Office) has said it will slash over 9,000 admin and managerial jobs.

Royal Mail workers have also been threatened with another 4,000 job losses if they continue to defend themselves by striking against management's "flexibility" demands.

These attacks are part of the drive for profit and the preparation for privatisation.

Consignia has a ruthless strategy. Our side needs to be just as organised and just as determined.

Union leaders should call the national strike ballot and campaign hard to get a massive yes vote. They should also encourage every fightback, official or unofficial.

The battle is not over just one or two issues. It is about the whole way the workforce is treated and about the privatisation programme.

It's time to fight.


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News
Sat 21 Jul 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1758
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