Socialist Worker

Money is there for decent pay

Issue No. 1827

CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown laid into workers who are in need of decent pay in his speech in parliament on Monday. He claimed that if firefighters and all public sector workers got a 16 percent rise it would cost £16 billion. New Labour could easily raise £29 billion a year by taking some simple steps.

£ New Labour has set the top rate of income tax at 40 percent. It was 60 percent or higher during Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher's first eight years in government. If New Labour reinstated this 60 percent top rate of tax it would raise at least £19 billion a year to fund public services and pay those workers a decent wage.

£ Labour has also slashed corporation tax, a tax on business profits. When New Labour came to office the rate was 35 percent. Businesses now pay between 10 and 28 percent. If all firms paid 35 percent again it would raise around £12 billion a year. It would be possible to raise billions more.

£ Britain's richest 200 people were worth £69.3 billion in 1997. They are now worth £112.6 billion. A small, say 10 percent, wealth tax would raise over £10 billion as a one-off contribution to the public sector.

£ Halting planned military projects would save vast amounts of money. Last month the government confirmed an order for two aircraft carriers at a cost of £3 billion. Recently defence secretary Geoff Hoon said that Britain was likely to take part in George Bush's 'Star Wars' project. That will cost at least £10 billion.

The government is also pressing ahead with the A400M military transport project. This will cost £5 billion. The purchase of 232 Eurofighter jets, which could still be cancelled, will cost £9 billion.

A Bain in the...

GEORGE BAIN is the man New Labour got to produce an inquiry saying firefighters are well paid - and he's on £160,000 a year. Bain, who is the vice-chancellor of Queen's University Belfast, gave himself a 50 percent pay rise.

Yet he says a rise in firefighters' pay to £30,000 is 'unjustified'. He attacks firefighters who are forced into doing second jobs to make ends meet. Bain's got two second jobs, as a company director, and certainly can't claim to be hard up. He also talks of modernisation and restructuring the fire service. In 1998 he oversaw a 'restructuring' package at Queen's University. It resulted in 'letting go' over 107 long term staff and cutting whole departments.

'Bain's response to the crisis has been to offer the university up to the private sector as a low cost appendage to their own research and development departments,' said a source at Queen's. Bain also claimed the FBU is an obstacle to bringing more women and under-represented minorities into the fire service. Two years ago Queen's University had to pay out a quarter of a million pounds for unfair employment practices.

John Cousins, one of the university's most senior Catholic employees, was paid over £150,000 in a religious discrimination claim. His wife, Carmel McMahon, won £75,000 in a similar claim against the university. Female professors at Queen's are paid 11 percent less than their male counterparts at the university.

Public support strikes

'IN 1977 public support was just as solid at the end of the strike as at the beginning. It is just not true that we lost support,' says Ronnie Robertson, ex-chair of the Scottish region FBU. The public are again behind the firefighters, as a poll in this week's Guardian reported.

Some 53 percent of people said the strike action was justified, despite the constant media abuse of the firefighters, up from 47 percent before the strikes started. Ronnie added, 'The Bain report was the bosses' agenda with his signature at the bottom. You don't get a knighthood by being independent. You get it by defending the status quo.'

Campaigns are united

'I REMEMBER that the FBU was the first union to back the Chhokar family campaign after their son was murdered. I went to the picket line, and all the firefighters were shaking my hand and saying how pleased they were to have me there.

Later the Chhokar family agreed to make loads of food and take it round the picket lines on Friday to show their support for the union that supported them.'
Aamer Anwar, human rights lawyer

THE GOVERNMENT has put lives at risk by forcing the firefighters to strike. But some firefighters left their picket lines so that they could respond to emergencies that put lives in danger. They were not 'breaking the strike', as the media claimed, but responding in a humanitarian way.

Firefighters at Yorkhill station in Glasgow wanted to move their engine to a serious road traffic accident nearby. But Strathclyde's chief officer, Jeff Ord, had the keys to appliances locked away. The tragic deaths of seven people in fires during the 48-hour strike took place at night.

Under Bain's 'modernisation' plan there would be fewer firefighters at night. Firefighters were on the picket line at Newtown station in Mid Wales when they responded to a fire that killed a pensioner on Wednesday evening. If it wasn't for the strike they would not have been there, as it is a retained station.

Retained who joined strike

RETAINED (part time) firefighters wanting to strike have been facing intimidation. Yet the media claims the small number of people in the no-strike Retained Firefighters Union (RFU) face threats of violence.

Some retained firefighters in Auchtermuchty in Scotland work for a local garage owner, who is also a firefighter at the station. He has told them they could be sacked from their full time jobs if they join the strike.

Linda Shanahan from the FBU in Fife told Socialist Worker, 'It is totally unacceptable that firefighters, whether whole time or retained, FBU or non-FBU, should be subjected to bullying, intimidation or blackmail by any employer.' The media got it hopelessly wrong last week. It described Spalding station in Lincolnshire as a whole time station where firefighters 'broke the strike' last Wednesday. It's a retained station.

Two FBU members were intimidated by RFU and non-union members into leaving the union, but rejoined during the strike.

Whose appliances?

THE CHAIR of the Avon fire authority, Terry Walker, told a strike rally in Bristol on Friday that he would not let the government seize his brigade's appliances. That brought cheers from hundreds of FBU members at the rally. It also leads to a simple question. Most fire authorities are Labour controlled. Why haven't they all refused to go along with this strike-breaking government?

Sky News was caught out last week when it challenged London firefighters to allow the army to use appliances which 'belong to the taxpayer'. Rupert Murdoch's minions had to be told that the appliances actually belong to a private company, thanks to a PFI scheme. That's another example of the 'modernisation' Bain calls for in his report.

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Sat 23 Nov 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1827
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