Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/300/13844
Defend the right to strike: Support The Fire Fighters
- Organise, with the whole trade union movement, against the imposition of any 'settlement'.
- No cuts in the fire service - resources to be allocated on the basis of the risk to life, not cost.
- For a decent pay rise for all firefighters and control staff - with no strings attached.
AS WE go to press, negotiations between the local fire authority employers and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) are still proceeding. FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist described the talks which took place on 6 May as "constructive and useful."
But these negotiations have been on the basis of the Burchill proposals, which still tie substantial strings to any pay increase.
At the same time, the Fire Services Bill passed its second reading in Parliament. This will allow a settlement to be imposed on the firefighters, with associated draconian cuts in jobs and the fire service.
The employers have already admitted they are looking to cut at least 5,000 firefighters' and emergency controllers' jobs.
They have been told to draw up local draft Integrated Risk Management Plans by September 2003, which are designed to replace the national standards for fire cover.
Authorities are being encouraged to make huge cuts to the fire service, using measures such as:
- Not attending all 999 calls - for example where alarms are set off automatically, or buildings have modern fire protection systems. The FBU have dubbed this the 'Titanic' approach - the ship's unsinkable so don't send a lifeboat.
- Taking longer to go to fires and sending people out in cars or motorbikes to check there is a fire before sending a fire engine.
- Sending fewer firefighters to fires and varying the response times on the basis of cost rather than on the basis of risk.
- Closing fire stations
The firefighters are locked into a vicious battle to the finish with New Labour, who are hell-bent on imposing a lousy pay settlement with swingeing cuts to the quality of the fire service and firefighters' working conditions.
The government is also threatening to ban further strike action by the firefighters, on the pretext of the troops having been committed to the Iraq occupation.
But firefighters have proved their willingness to fight, building support locally from other trade unionists, particularly other public sector workers and the public at large during their strikes.
If given a lead, rank and file trade unionists would rally to support the firefighters if the government move to impose a settlement. The FBU should call on this support and demand that the TUC organise solidarity action in defence of the firefighters and to defend the right to strike.
The FBU national executive meets on 15 May to consider the situation.
Unless the employers make a decent pay offer, without strings, the next step must be to call further strike action, with a vigorous campaign to build support from the whole trade union movement.
Rail union RMT leader Bob Crow said in response to Labour's moves to impose a settlement: "Now is the time for the entire trade union movement to stand solidly alongside Andy Gilchrist and all our brothers and sisters in the FBU." This must be turned into action.
In The Socialist 17 May 2003: