FIRE BRIGADES Union (FBU) members across Britain and Northern Ireland are debating how to take forward their campaign against huge attacks on their conditions.
Last month’s FBU conference voted to draw a line in the sand and call for a fresh strike ballot at the end of this month if local authority employers and the government continue to hold back a promised pay increase.
That decision, and the vote to disaffiliate from the Labour Party, lifted activists.
But both votes were passed against the wishes of the FBU leadership. Activists knew they would have to exert a lot of pressure to stop the prevarication and retreat at the top of the union that has characterised the last 18 months.
Few were surprised at the latest move by the majority of the FBU executive and its national officers to launch a survey of the membership, which most activists see as a means of delaying confrontation with the employers.
“These kinds of manoeuvres really undermine us,” says Neale Williams from the FBU in north London.
“There is a mixed mood on stations across the country. There is a unanimous distrust of the leadership.
“But there is also a sense that we should stop retreating and that the way to do that is to vote for strikes.
“In some areas people are talking about all-out strike action.
“In others there are real arguments about whether we can get anything by striking.
“Everywhere there’s a sense that this time it has to be different from the pay campaign launched two years ago, which ended up with strikes being called off and the members demoralised.”
Tam McFarlane, secretary of the FBU in the south west of England, says, “The message is straighforward—if we don’t fight now they’ll just walk all over us.
“That is what we have been taking to stations and watches. It’s getting a very good response.
“Of course, not everyone is immediately up for strike action. But people want to have a serious discussion.
“And the debate is very political. There have been watch meetings debating whether it is possible to beat the state, and whether we can win against a hostile media.
“It boils down to holding the ballot and getting a yes vote. The issue is not even the pay and conditions at the end of the day. It’s about getting some confidence back and stopping a rout.
“Doubtless we will see vacillation at the top of the union. We’ve got to build up a strong mood at the bottom.”
Local officials are now involved in a strategy group, which is meant to advise the executive on the conduct of the campaign.
They are trying to use that to get proposals accepted by the leadership, even though some executive members are completely opposed to the group meeting.
In some parts of the union members are not hearing
the positive arguments for resistance.
“That’s often down to local leadership,” says Neale Williams. “Activists and the Red Watch rank and file paper are trying to ensure we overcome that unevenness.”