THERE WILL now be a series of local attacks brigade by brigade after the end of the firefighters' dispute. The national agreement is clear that money for promised pay increases beyond 4 percent is dependent on achieving 'savings' locally, to be assessed by the audit commission.
There are already chief officers around Britain who are chomping at the bit to push through job cuts, longer working hours and flexibility. The government's medium-term plan is to break union resistance and impose the kind of free market policies that plague the rest of the public sector. Despite getting the firefighters' FBU union leadership to sign up to the national agreement, the government still faces problems.
It wants a new breed of private sector style managers. However, it has no coordinated plan for ramming changes through. It is relying on local fire bosses in 58 brigades having a go. So the first areas facing attacks are Merseyside, two brigades in East Anglia plus Northamptonshire, and London, where the incoming chief officer Ken Knight has a reputation for confrontation.
All these areas strongly rejected the national agreement. Mick Syme from Bedfordshire says, 'I had 20 phone calls the day after we heard about the plan to merge control. One station was talking about walking out there and then. Of course it's not a pretty sight after the national sell-out. But we can resist locally. The spirit is still there. A quick move to fight the local offensive could pull people round.'
'We do have to move quickly, though,' says Ian Foulkes from Merseyside. 'If not, then demoralisation will become the dominant thing. We held the line against overtime here. There's now a danger people will say, what's the point if everyone else is doing it?'
Activists were discussing this week calling a national meeting centred on the brigades that are already under attack. 'It needs to draw in the people who are most angry, who want to fight and who have learned the lessons from how our leadership has behaved,' says Dick Duane.