Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/292/14004
Fair Pay for Firefighters
FIREFIGHTERS AT their special union conference on 19 March have overwhelming rejected the employers 'revised offer'. Earlier the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) national executive had voted by 12 - 6 votes to accept it. FBU members throughout the country will now consider the offer.
Billy Carruthers of Euston fire station in central London told The Socialist that 80% of the FBU membership have rejected the previous, almost identical, offer of 16% over three years.
The new offer is conditional on the firefighters accepting massive cuts in jobs and fire station closures. The employers want a "Martini fire service" where firefighters have to work - any time, any place, anywhere.
The tactics and strategy to win this dispute will be a vital issue at the conference. Unfortunately it seems that the leadership could be preparing to call off the strikes in the event of war, so as not to lose public support.
As Billy Carruthers says: "We were told from the beginning by the leadership that public support would fall as the strikes go on so what's new? We were asked: 'Are you in favour of the new offer'. It didn't include: 'Do you support suspension of strike action for the duration of the war'."
The press are speculating whether or not Prescott will ban the strikes and impose a settlement. If that happens, unofficial action could develop.
The conference will have to make it clear to the leadership that they should go ahead with the strikes whatever the situation is with the war. The employers and the government will see any suspension of strike action as a sign of weakness.
Tory Bernard Jenkin's attack on the FBU, that the firefighters were: "Friends of Saddam" brought a laugh from activists - it was the Tories and Bush senior who armed Saddam in the first place.
In the event of terrorist incidents, firefighters are willing to come off the picket lines anyway.
"We have an agreement for this up to and including a general recall to duty for specific incidents" Billy Carruthers told us. "The government are the ones cutting back jobs and fire stations. They are only now beginning to increase our resources to deal with terrorists incidents, 18 months after September 11."
Millions of public sector workers know instinctively that the firefighters' fight is their fight. That is where the FBU leaders should look for support. If the government go to the law to defeat the firefighters, the FBU should demand that the whole trade union movement comes to their aid.
The right to strike is a fundamental democratic right which should be defended by the whole trade union movement.
In The Socialist 21 March 2003: