THE EXECUTIVE of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) was to meet this week in the wake of John Prescott taking a further step towards imposing a deal on firefighters and control staff. 'There is immense anger at Prescott,' says Albie Lythgoe from the FBU on Merseyside. 'Our brigade has voted to continue to fight by calling more strikes. We are prepared to walk out if Prescott imposes - that's whether the national union calls us out or not. Merseyside is saying no to the Burchill proposals, which our national executive has argued are a basis for settling the dispute. Burchill opens the door to the employers' so called modernisation drive. We should be getting back to a straight fight over pay.'
There is a strong feeling that the talk of imposing an offer is designed to intimidate the FBU into settling for far less than what firefighters began this fight for. 'There has been repeated talk of imposing an offer,' says Andy Brickles from East Midlands FBU.
'When we have struck, that talk has gone out the window. The mood to strike is back up. Any new strike dates announced this week have to be followed through on.' Many employers and chief fire officers are already driving through plans for cuts.
In Manchester the chief officer has been ordering two firefighters in a van to respond to grass fires - without water and equipped only with beaters. A firefighter was suspended for refusing to work in this dangerous way and has just won reinstatement thanks to a determined stand by the union.
Cambridge is already campaigning against a reduction from two stations to one. 'We have to draw the line now,' says Neale Williams from north London. 'The retreats by our national leadership have left us in this position. Accepting Burchill would be another retreat. I don't want to be hearing that we've done well because Prescott hasn't imposed a deal but we have accepted a terrible deal from the employers. The signals are not good. The 'informal talks' between our union and the employers have been about an offer and a counter-offer which are both unacceptable. The government has taken a hard line. Our leadership has to learn from the mistakes of the last few months and take an equally hard line. If the members feel our leadership has the will to fight, even the weaker areas will too. A determined stand would rally huge support in the trade union movement. Anything short of a fighting response by our union risks disaster.'