A CONSULTATIVE ballot of Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members was believed to have delivered a vote backing the leadership's negotiating position as Socialist Worker went to press. But it also seemed that the turnout in the poll was very low-particularly by the standards of FBU ballots.
The poll asked firefighters and control room staff whether it was acceptable for the union's leaders to negotiate on giving up certain key conditions. In return they would get a 3.5 percent pay rise promised in last year's settlement, but held back by the employers.
There was no recommendation from the FBU executive, but union activists have told Socialist Worker that every bit of information from union headquarters implied a yes vote.
'Most people felt there was no other choice,' says Neale Williams from the FBU in north London. 'We could strike, but it is clear the union's leadership is just not prepared to do that. The attack guaranteed to produce a no vote and a strike-lengthening hours through writing off part of time at work on nights-was left out.'
The employers, Labour-dominated local authorities, say they are confident they can drive through wholesale attacks on the national conditions. They say they are 'quite confident' they can come to an agreement 'at a joint meeting with the FBU in early May'.
Union activists are arguing that the FBU conference, which meets in the second week of May, should be allowed to decide on any deal. The alternative is the executive taking a flawed, weakly supported poll of members as a mandate to make unnecessary concessions to the employers.