THE MOOD for hard hitting strikes among firefighters and control operators is boiling up again as the government tries to drive through dangerous cuts and an appalling pay offer.
Deputy prime minister John Prescott was set this week to move closer to changing the law so he can impose pay rates and worsened conditions on firefighters. That follows moves by local fire authority leaders to reject out of hand calls from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to negotiate an end to the dispute. The offer was brushed aside even though the union's leaders are tabling proposals which fall far short of what their members want.
The cuts begin
THE EMPLOYERS have already told local authorities to start imposing cuts and attacks on conditions. They are threatening to pull out of the recognised body for negotiating national pay and conditions.
And they have called on the government to impose an even worse offer unless the union accepts the one it has rejected unanimously at a conference. That 'final offer' only gave a 4 percent pay rise this year and linked future rises to 'savings' through reducing fire cover, shutting stations, and making firefighters and control staff work longer and harder.
New Labour hopes to intimidate firefighters into surrendering. It does not want to see determined strikes that could become a focus for wider solidarity.
Stay strong now
THE FBU executive meets next week with a view to announcing further strike dates. 'That is a step forward,' says Dick Duane from the FBU in Essex. 'We have got to strike back now or the government will rip into the fire service.
'But we have been here before. There has to be enormous pressure not to call off strikes in the hope that John Prescott will do us a favour. He won't. 'And if we are returning to strike action, we should be fighting for our original claim. The Burchill proposals simply aren't good enough. The union's executive should drop them now. I don't want to see us marched up to the top of the hill to get something rank and file firefighters know concedes much of what the employers want.'
The decision by FBU leaders to call off strikes in the past is what has encouraged the government to stick the boot in. A circular last week from FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist acknowledged that his tactics have been 'taken as a sign of weakness by our employers'.
It is now time for a new approach which recognises that the government will only respond to determined resistance.