The Socialist 4 September 2004
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Firefighters' dispute: Employers Climb Down
FIREFIGHTERS HAVE settled their long-running dispute after the employers finally agreed to stump up back pay and accept that bank holidays were not normal working days.
For over three months - since the firefighters held the first part of their annual conference in May this year - the employers have been refusing to honour and implement the pay deal which was agreed to end the firefighters' strike of 2002-2003.
The bosses had used the flimsiest of pretexts to withhold the various stages of the pay award and also kept attempting to introduce new requirements that firefighters had to comply with, which were not part of the initial deal.
This forced the firefighters' union the FBU to withdraw from the agreement and begin a ballot for strike action. This threat, along with the hardening mood of firefighters, eventually forced the employers to implement the deal without added strings.
At an earlier stage it was clear the Labour-led employers, at the instigation of the government who were keeping them on a tight leash, were preparing to face down the firefighters and attempt to smash their union.
However, the escalating anger of the firefighters was beginning to percolate through to a government which was also panicking about the limitations of its contingency plans to deal with the dispute.
Now the firefighters have been paid the award in full and will be paid over £500 in back pay.
Although firefighters will carry out 'normal' duties on bank holidays, fire authorities have been forced to recognise it is not a normal working day and will have to pay double time and a day off in lieu.
There is little doubt that the employers have climbed down from their hardline stance of a few weeks ago. The form of words agreed to settle the dispute is exactly the same as that on offer three weeks ago when Labour councillors tried to wreck the deal.
Clearly, the government was not as prepared as it thought it was to deal with another firefighters' strike and the real threat of action by the union's members was instrumental in forcing the climbdown.
The FBU also had forced other unions to put pressure on the Labour government, which has become increasingly jittery about its relations with the unions in the run-up to the general election.
Firefighters have told the socialist that this has boosted confidence in the stations but they are aware that this is likely to be only a temporary climbdown by the government.
If Labour wins a third term, many firefighters are conscious that it will come back for more in its so-called modernisation plans and could line up the firefighters with the civil servants and other public-sector unions in its slash-and-burn plans for change in the public sector.
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