'MAYBE I was naive when this began,' says Steve Kendall from Stevenage. 'But during the eight-day strike I realised just how much support we could get. You don't get it by standing around burning wood, but by getting out into workplaces and communities. That's one of the biggest lessons we've learned in my area. Now we are saying the union has to come up with what to do next. We are looking for someone to come up with something. We are still determined to win. The attacks on us have hardened the mood.'
Support and solidarity experienced during the strike two weeks ago is still there. The Scottish region of the Unison union passed a resolution from its Inverclyde branch last week and donated £15,000 to the FBU's hardship fund. There were also impressive support group meetings. Some 60 people attended a meeting in Dumbarton, and 50 in the south side of Glasgow.
Both drew together firefighters and local trade unionists who discussed practical support and the future of the dispute.
Some 40 people came to a support meeting in Ilford, east London, and another 40 joined a lunchtime rally outside Burnley town hall. Mary Black from the Burnley support group says, 'It just shows the kind of support that can be built on if the FBU has to go on strike again.'
Steve Godward and Bob Pounder
THERE IS a ferment of debate inside the FBU over how to pursue the pay campaign and over the political questions it has thrown up. That's why activists were shocked to hear that Bob Pounder, the secretary of the FBU in Greater Manchester, was suspended from his union position by the national union on Thursday last week.
'My crime', says Bob, 'is that I have stated my opposition to the abandonment of our claim without strings. I am opposed to our leaders selling out our hard-won conditions of service.'
Bob Pounder's criticisms were quoted in the Manchester Evening News and his words mischievously taken up in the Sun, the rag that has personally attacked both him and FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist. There's no doubt that Greater Manchester Fire Brigade, which is looking to make £1.9 million cuts, will take heart from Bob Pounder's suspension pending union disciplinary action.
He says, 'If the executive is allowed to get away with it, it will be the first of many suspensions of those who are not prepared to see the shredding of our conditions of service.' Steve Godward, a leading FBU activist in Birmingham, was also suspended earlier this year from union office.
Birmingham brigade management sacked him two weeks ago in what union members there see as a case of victimisation. Steve, with union backing, is appealing against his sacking.
Bob Pounder's suspension from the union sets a very dangerous precedent. Some executive members accept privately that it is not the way to deal with disagreements inside the union which are being debated in stations across Britain in a spirit of unity.
And many activists see it as a step towards silencing voices in the union which are critical of the executive. Bob Pounder is calling on all FBU members to demand his reinstatement. That call should be taken up in every brigade.