Socialist Worker

Firefighters' union must step up the defence of gay rights

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 2017

Nine firefighters who refused to hand out safety advice leaflets to people attending a gay pride march in Glasgow were disciplined last week.

A watch manager has been demoted to crew manager with a £5,000 salary cut.

The remaining firefighters were given a written warning. All nine have to take part in diversity training.

The firefighters are based at Cowcaddens.

Some of them said it would be against their religious beliefs to hand out leaflets while others said it would be embarrassing.

Right wing forces have rallied to the firefighters’ defence. The Nazi British National Party (BNP) has launched a campaign.

At the same time Mario Conti, the Catholic archbishop of Glasgow, has spoken out in support of the workers.

While their actions were homophobic and must be tackled, it has to be questioned whether formal disciplinary procedures are the way to deal with the problem.

It also raises questions about management and their policies on equality.

How many managers or directors of the Strathclyde fire authority are openly gay or lesbian?

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has a long and proud record of fighting for gay and lesbian rights in the fire service, often against management intransigence.

Pat Carberry, the chair of the FBU gay and lesbian committee, told Socialist Worker, “We expect our members to treat all people with dignity and respect. We got a shock in this case.

“Gays and lesbians pay for the fire service, and some individuals in the FBU made a decision not to provide that service.

“Community safety is important.

“It is better not to have a fire than us having to come and put it out.

“With one breath people are saying if a gay person’s house is on fire they will come to put it out, but with the other breath they are saying they would not give out leaflets at gay pride to stop that happening.

“We thought we were racing ahead, but now we know we have to get back out there and start educating people again.

“Our union had policy to provide representation to the firefighters. This was difficult as their actions were blatantly homophobic.

“The FBU gay and lesbian committee attended the pride event in Glasgow.

“There were gay firefighters there, which the press has not reported, even if local firefighters were not.

“Eight of the nine firefighters have said that given the choice again they would attend the event.”

For firefighters battle on Merseyside go XXXXXXXXXX

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Article information

Sat 9 Sep 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2017
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