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From The Socialist newspaper, 14 March 2003

Support the firefighters

Step Up The Fight For A Living Wage

THE LATEST offer has gone down a storm!! 15.2% over 18 months may look OK on the surface but the devil is in the detail...

Steve Brinkley, Suffolk FBU

4% from last November - is roughly equivalent to what we would have got anyway. 7% from this November is approximately 3% more than we may have got under the old formula.

4.2% from next July is subject to many conditions and we've not had a pay rise since November 2001!

So in reality this is an increase less than was on offer when "Two Jags" couldn't get out of bed last year and more insultingly probably only around 7% more than we would have got from the old formula.

Many strings are attached too. We will be required to work longer hours, be at the beck and call of local managers on any duty system, any shift pattern and anywhere within our area. It means an end to our overtime ban, all paid for by reducing the number of staff!

We are holding some mass meetings of members next week. Our brigade committee rejected this offer before it was put because we anticipated the employers' skulduggery.

We will be going to Brighton on the 19 March for our recall conference with a clear decision to take them on. Prescott and our employers have had their chance, the gloves are now off.

Firefighters are determined to win

FIREFIGHTERS' LEADERS have been forced to reject the latest offer from government and employers. Pressure is building on the FBU leadership to make the running of the strike more democratic and to immediately announce plans for further action.

Ken Smith and Bill Mullins

The latest offer is a rehash of proposals outlined in the Bain Report which was described by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) as a plan for a Martini fire service, where firefighters would be called upon to perform extra duties, anytime, anyplace, anywhere. It is a worse deal on offer than the draft proposals scuppered by the government in November.

The lack of strike action since Christmas and the FBU leadership's reliance on negotiations rather than action had led the employers into thinking they had firefighters on the run and they would reluctantly accept the discredited Bain proposals.

Despite a government 'sweetener' of preparing to underwrite a 30 million transitional arrangement - to 'ease in' the worst aspects of the Bain proposals - the new proposals would mean the reduction of night cover, the end of current shift patterns, ending the dispute mechanism and undermining the role of the FBU and a delay in introducing pay parity for retained firefighters. Additionally, there are proposals for new duties to be added to the firefighters' working day.

Although the FBU leadership are recommending rejection of the offer at the recall FBU conference on 19 March, behind the scenes enormous pressure is being put by the government on the FBU leadership to compromise.

FBU leader Andy Gilchrist has hinted that he is prepared to continue talks with the government, in the hope that the 30 million interim arrangements would allow the pay settlement to be implemented without the immediate introduction of the Bain report.

Prescott's pre-Christmas threats to impose a settlement and at the same time to outlaw the right to strike are still there. The FBU demands for a new pay formula have not been met, despite hints that there is something in the pipe line.

The government are transparently attempting to postpone the dispute until conditions are more favourable for them to attack the union. It is likely to be only a matter of time before the firefighters are referred to as 'the enemy within'.

The government were hoping that a lack of strike action since Christmas would have been enough to hold the FBU leadership back from resurrecting any plans for strike action and ensuring that nothing disrupts their plans for the Iraq war.

Their commitment of 40,000 troops in the Gulf, (one-quarter of Britain's military forces) makes it very difficult for them to cover any further firefighters' strikes.

The way forward

THERE IS still a determination amongst the majority of the firefighters to win this battle and that is what the FBU leadership should base itself on, rather than so-called public opinion.

Though public and media support can be important, ultimately it is the firefighters' determination to continue their struggle for better wages and conditions that the union leadership must listen to.

The coming FBU conference on 19 March should not only go ahead to debate the latest offer on pay and conditions but also the tactics and strategy of the struggle. Firefighters' leaders in London have called for the running of the strike to be taken out of the hands of the executive and handed over to elected reps from all the Brigades.

Matt Wrack of the London FBU said: "There is an urgent need for increasing the democratic control of the strike. I am arguing for this and the London regional committee is backing this position. We will be putting forward a resolution calling for a national strike committee elected by each of the 59 or so brigades. There have been similar calls from other brigades for such a measure."

This crucial question of the leadership of the strike now looms larger than ever. There is a clear need amongst firefighters to analyse the tactics and strategy of the strike, the role of the FBU leadership and the role of the TUC and to take the course of the strike into their own hands.

Too often the tactics of the leadership have been tied to what is perceived as 'public opinion' rather than the determination of their own members to win.

The firefighters' struggle has inspired millions of workers by the sweep of the claim, and the determination of the workers to win. After all the near unanimity of the vote for strike action, showed that trade union members were willing to struggle for decent pay and conditions.

Other workers are still involved in struggle, such as the local council workers in London who last week were involved in strikes in schools and other council services. The huge movements against the war have given groups of workers confidence that the Labour government is in crisis and can be forced to retreat.

Whatever the outcome of the recall conference on 19 March, the firefighters' dispute has been one of the most important struggles since the great miners' strike of 1984-85.

By sticking firm now, the FBU can win a famous victory, not only for their own members but millions of other workers who want the firefighters to defeat government attempts to drive down the wages and conditions of all public sector workers.

"Personally I think there's no point in putting this offer to the recall conference. We have a unanimous mandate to strike.

"16% over three years and cuts on top are nowhere near what we are fighting for, we are back to November with this offer".

Billy Carruthers of the Euston fire station in central London said that London firefighters are ready to walk out again once the seven days notice is given.

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In The Socialist 14 March 2003:

Organise To Walk Out Against War

Support the firefighters

PFI Doesn't Work

Stop Work To Stop The War

Blair's war crisis

School And College Students Show The Way

10,000 rally in Stockholm

World economy: Is War Good For Business?

Asylum - What We Say


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