FIREFIGHTERS AND control staff across Britain are already returning a big yes vote in their strike ballot, which began last week, according to Fire Brigades Union regional reps. Documents from the Ministry of Defence have revealed that the government is to ship 3,000 of the troops it had trained to scab on any strike to the Gulf. Last weekend also saw a taste of the kind of propaganda New Labour is prepared to put out in an effort to undermine high levels of public support for the FBU union's campaign.
Ted George, chair of the employers' organisation and a Labour councillor from Wrexham, had the nerve to accuse firefighters of 'playing Russian roulette' with people's lives. Yet it is the employers and the government who refused throughout the summer to make any kind of serious pay offer. It is New Labour ministers who have issued off the record briefings about using emergency powers against the FBU.
The strong mood among FBU members shows they have the power to win and get solidarity. Fire brigade employers in London have already felt forced to offer improved allowances for working in the capital. The body, made up of representatives of the Greater London Assembly and London borough councils, has offered a two-year deal to bring London allowance payments up to £4,300.
The FBU in London has submitted a claim for a £6,111 London allowance payment - which is the same as the police get. FBU London regional officials were to meet this week to consider the offer and a wider meeting involving lay members is to take place next week.
There is a deep feeling in London that the offer - the first serious increase after three years of asking - is timed to undermine a yes vote in the national strike ballot. 'Every indication we are getting is that it has had no effect in leading people to vote no,' Linda Smith, FBU London regional treasurer, told Socialist Worker. 'Every union activist in London is committed to getting a record yes vote.'
The £4,300 offer shows what other public sector workers in London can achieve. FBU activists are worried about conceding the principle of a two-year settlement and are in no mood to be bounced into a settlement by the employers.