IT’S NOT only the prospect of an abysmal result on 10 June that has New Labour worried. The biggest industrial confrontation under Blair has returned, as firefighters refuse to cave in to a government-inspired bosses’ offensive. A panicky editorial in the Financial Times on Monday warned against employers making any concessions.
Unofficial action was continuing in large parts of Britain at the start of this week. No one knows if the mood to resist will lead to more fire strikes. But the fact a dispute that was meant to be settled one year ago has flared up symbolises a wider desire in the unions to fight back. One and a half million council workers could be balloting for strikes this summer. Civil servants could soon call more action as part of their pay dispute. Signallers and maintenance workers across the rail network have voted for strikes over pay and pensions. Tube workers are balloting.
Pensions are a timebomb for the government. But most union leaders, who are loyal to Labour, are desperate to avoid a confrontation with the government in the run-up to next year’s expected general election. Chancellor Gordon Brown, however, is giving them little room to manoeuvre. The government is constantly taking the fight to us. Workers are right to demand their union leaders organise and coordinate resistance.