Socialist Worker

The firefighters can win victory

Issue No. 1828

'THIS IS a strike you can't win.' That was Tony Blair's message to the firefighters this week. And the Sun pushed the same argument. No one should fall for this bluster. Blair may want to present a tough image. But in reality his government is totally split over the firefighters.

The cabinet is torn by vicious rivalries. Ministers were publicly floundering when the firefighters went out. Some may be relishing the chance to take on the unions, but the government did not prepare for a long strike. Blair's cabinet knows the firefighters have huge public support. One poll on ITV showed that 60 percent of people support the firefighters' strike. The government is scared of what that support could mean.

Millions of working class people identify with the fight for decent pay and against cuts and privatisation.


Fought and won

The key to victory is mobilising the support for the firefighters into active solidarity. Governments much more hard-nosed than Blair's have been forced to retreat when groups of strikers have won solidarity from other workers.

In the early 1970s Edward Heath's hardline Tory government was forced back because many different groups of workers went out on strike. The miners beat the Tories twice in 1972 and 1974. But it wasn't just the miners. Dockers, railway workers, building workers and other groups all fought back and won.


Mood for solidarity

In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher said she wasn't for turning. But she was certainly not invincible. In 1982 she was forced to retreat when health workers fought back.

But time and time again union leaders threw away their chances to build active solidarity between groups of workers. The Great Miners' Strike of 1984-5 lost because the miners were left to fight on alone.

Since then workers' confidence has slowly been recovering, as has the mood for solidarity and unity. Many union leaders, like the GMB's John Edmonds and Bob Crow from the RMT, have spoken out in anger against the government and in solidarity with the firefighters.

Even TUC general secretary John Monks has urged support for the firefighters, although he still sees his job as brokering a shoddy compromise. The union leaders should be throwing themselves into building a massive demonstration in solidarity with the firefighters - no ifs and no buts. That would act as a beacon for every worker - uniting support behind the firefighters and strengthening and spreading opposition to the government's attack on workers everywhere.


Striking teachers on the march

THOUSANDS OF teachers, support staff and council workers marched through London on Tuesday demanding an increased London weighting allowance. The protest was part of a united day of strikes by the NUT and NASUWT teachers' unions and the Unison school support staff and council workers' union. Delegations of striking firefighters joined the march


Whose side are they on?

THE FIREFIGHTERS may have overwhelming public support, but there is one group that is uniting against them. Businessmen, bosses, newspaper editors and well-heeled columnists, who all get the kind of incomes the firefighters can't even dream of, have suddenly sunk any disagreements.

Now they are all singing from the same hymn book - telling us the firefighters are greedy and that Britain can't possibly afford to pay them a decent wage. Digby Jones, head of the bosses' CBI organisation, is leading the chorus. This man gets £310,000 a year but has the gall to say that the firefighters are selfish and just about 'me, me, me'.

Tax avoider and multi-billionaire Rupert Murdoch has used his Sun newspaper to spout filthy lies and bile against the firefighters day after day. He has been joined by newspaper columnists, like the £200,000 a year Hugo Young in the Guardian, who for just one article rake in more than a firefighter can earn in a month or even two.

These people have fallen in behind Tony Blair's campaign against the firefighters.

Bosses like Jean-Pierre Garnier of GlaxoSmithKline can double or triple salaries and bonuses without being told to 'modernise'. Blair's cabinet can award itself a 40 percent rise without being told to tighten its belt.

But the firefighters, who are paid just £6.20 an hour for risking their lives, face the full fury of the government and its rich allies. Despite this New Labour still relies on money from hard-pressed, underpaid trade union members.

Over the last three months some four fifths of Labour's money has come from the trade unions. Why on earth are our trade union leaders still giving money to New Labour, just for them to stab us in the back?

Over the last two years there have been debates at trade union conferences about opening up the unions' political funds, which automatically give trade unionists' money to the Labour Party.

The question of what trade unionists are getting for their money has never been asked so widely and sharply - by firefighters on the picket lines, but also by council workers, teachers, health workers and many others. It is clearer than ever that union members should be allowed to decide to give their money to organisations like the Scottish Socialist Party or the Socialist Alliance, which are building solidarity with the firefighters and creating a positive left wing alternative to New Labour.


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