TONY BLAIR restated his hard line against the firefighters on the very day leaders of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) suspended another strike in the hope of getting a pay offer in talks. He said on Monday of this week, 'If people make excessive wage claims we will have to resist them.'
This was from a government that has given MPs a 40 percent pay increase! The firefighters' and control room operators' pay campaign stands on a knife edge, and with it the hopes of millions of other workers who want to see them decisively break through the Bank of England's unofficial pay curbs. The executive of the FBU has now called off three strikes, including an eight day stoppage planned for Wednesday of this week.
'Our nine to one vote three weeks ago really put the government and the employers under pressure,' says Paul Embery, FBU secretary at Islington station, north London. But suspending the strikes has taken the heat off and produced huge confusion among activists and the rank and file. And for what? At the start of this week the employers had not even made an offer over the central issue of what we should be paid. The executive has issued a new strike date of Wednesday and Thursday next week. That is the last possible date to begin legal strike action under the ballot we have had. But the employers have said they could delay making an offer until the middle of next week. And they've said it will be linked to attacks on conditions. They want to box us into a corner where rank and file FBU members will be under pressure to accept any old rubbish. The great danger is that the decision of our union executive plays into their hands. People on the stations and in the control rooms are really angry.'
That was also the feeling of FBU members from Essex, London, Derbyshire and Hertfordshire who lobbied the union's executive meeting on Monday. That evening firefighters on some 20 stations in London took '999 calls only action' - an unofficial work to rule.
The overwhelming message from across Britain and Northern Ireland is the same - no more calling off strike dates without clear cut victory on the campaign for £30,000 pay. 'We've just had an urgent meeting of 150 union members, over a third of the total,' Mark Barter, FBU pay coordinator in Bedfordshire, told Socialist Worker.
'We decided there is no point in getting cynical. We have to maintain the morale and unity that have carried us forward. Let's put the pressure back on our employers - no retreat from our claim or next week's strike. Bedfordshire is in no mood to retreat. We are contacting people in every brigade we can with that message.'
THE TRAGIC death of Bob Miller, a 44 year old firefighter in Leicester, last week underlined just how dangerous the job is. He died after he entered a burning factory, to ensure no one was trapped, and fell through a floor.
Workmates pulled him out. He was taken to hospital, but all attempts to revive him failed. Bob Miller had been a firefighter for 26 years and was married with two teenage sons. Every firefighter risks their life for just £21,531 a year.