LARGELY LABOUR-led local government employers are urging fire chiefs to rip up firefighters' conditions in anticipation of a general offensive if the government beats the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). The Local Government Association has told fire authorities to start implementing those parts of the Bain cuts package that do not require new legislation.
Deputy prime minister John Prescott has asked authorities to draw up plans for station closures. He is removing the legal clause which delays such cuts. Unnamed officials of the employers' body have suggested imposing an even worse offer on firefighters and control staff. They are threatening to do that if the FBU does not accept the terrible deal its conference has twice rejected.
This is designed to scare FBU members into accepting an offer that guarantees only 4 percent this year and opens the way to massive cuts. Socialist Worker has learnt that the deputy chief officer in Lincolnshire talked about sacking all 193 whole time (full time) firefighters in the county. Mike Thomas made the threat to firefighters at a Lincoln station because they refused to take on extra work while the pay dispute is on.
He mentioned mass sackings and then said, 'Management run this brigade, not the FBU.' The new chief officer in London is Ken Knight. As West Midlands chief he oversaw the victimisation of leading FBU activist Steve Godward. 'Knight has been on the leading edge of the attacks,' says Neale Williams of the FBU in north London. 'In the West Midlands he said he would no longer process 'failures to agree' initiated by the union. That is a key part of what the employers want nationally - to be able to say there is only an industrial dispute if both sides agree there is.'
Fire bosses have compulsorily transferred a firefighter in south London in breach of national disciplinary regulations. When the chair of an independent committee said managers had acted outside agreements, they refused to turn up to any more meetings.
'Fire chiefs have gone on the offensive because our union has vacillated and shown weakness,' says Neale Williams. 'Accepting Burchill as a basis for negotiation will only encourage the employers and the government to go for more. We have to put pressure on our executive to change course at its meeting on 12 May - reject Burchill and get strikes back on. We've got to strengthen rank and file connections so we can hit back at whatever the employers throw at us.'
Organising resistance to Burchill and the employers, meeting for FBU members called by rank and file paper Red Watch. Thursday 8 May, 7pm, Room Two, SOAS main building, off Malet Street, London.