THE GOVERNMENT and the fire authority employers have seized on the firefighters FBU union leadership's latest climbdown over night working to demand more concessions. 'This was entirely predictable,' says Tam McFarlane, secretary of the FBU South West Region. 'Every time we have made concessions the employers have come back for more. That's why members in my area were saying we should not compromise over the stand down time, but should resist. That's what delegates voted for when they agreed to suspend our conference last month. There really is no alternative now to drawing a line in the sand and saying we are going to fight back.'
The FBU executive last week voted by nine to seven to agree a new form of words on stand down time. The union's president ruled out of order a motion that the decision on such a crucial issue should be taken at the union's reconvened conference next week.
That ruling and the fact that three executive members broke their mandates by voting to accept the deal caused immense anger throughout the union. 'It was absolutely staggering,' says Neale Williams from the FBU in north London. 'Activists have worked flat out to build solidarity for suspended firefighters in Manchester and to lift up members' spirits to defend stand down time. Then they find that the leadership want to rush through a sell-out decision without even taking it to the conference.'
The New Labour employers have demanded further concessions. The executive was to meet again on Tuesday of this week to look at yet another new form of words. A couple of executive members who voted to accept last week's deal have admitted that they were left with egg on their faces after the employers came back to humiliate the union.
'What did they expect?' says Neale Williams. 'We have got to stop the rot now. That means taking this issue up at the conference, no matter what the executive decides.'
There are growing calls within the FBU to remove the current national leadership. There is also mounting pressure to hold executive members to account when they break mandates. The black and ethnic minority section of the union was meeting on Monday of this week to discipline their executive member.
The problem of executive members ignoring members' views has affected virtually every region of the union throughout the 18-month pay dispute. Activists were preparing this week to assert democracy, and rank and file independence, at the union's conference.
Firefighters in London are balloting for industrial action over plans to turn them into a cut-price ambulance service. This follows a succesful ballot over the issue in Tower Hamlets, east London.