Firefighters Demand A Living Wage

Union leaders urge members not to accept pay deal

“MORE MONEY for the war machine! Gordon Brown has indicated that he will make more money available ‘so that the Armed Forces are properly equipped for whatever lies ahead’. What about proper equipment for fighting something a bit closer to home, like fires and chemical/biological and other attacks? The cheeky bastards with dual standards yet again.”

That was the reaction of one firefighter to the billions being spent on the build-up to war. This is whilst the negotiations over the firefighters’ claim for a living wage continue with little sign of concessions from the employers.

In spite of three solid strikes, with massive and growing public support, the employers are sticking to their demand that the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) accept the provisions of the Bain report before any pay deal can be made. But it is clear that Bain means cuts, privatisation and worsening working conditions rather than ‘modernisation’.

If the Bain provisions were implemented 4,500 firefighters’ jobs would go over the next four years, along with hundreds more control staff. That is the equivalent of the closure of 150 fire stations.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is also proposing to repeal the legislation which forces the government to consult the local community if fire service standards are to be changed. He wants to allow chief fire officers to make those decisions – allowing cuts on the quiet.

Whilst negotiations drag on, the employers are trying to get tough on a local level. FBU officials are being victimised in Cleveland, the West Midlands and Hampshire. There is also an attempt to merge control rooms in Wiltshire. Also some fire authorities appear to be dragging their feet over recruitment, hoping to reduce staffing to the levels proposed in the Bain report by ‘natural wastage’.

The FBU is lobbying parliament on 12 March and union leaders have urged their members not to accept a pay deal at the recalled FBU conference on 19 March. There is still a ballot mandate for further strike action which will almost certainly be necessary if concessions are to be wrung from the government.

But FBU strike action alone will not be enough – Prescott has already threatened to take direct control of the fire service and could be planning to impose a lousy settlement on the pretext of the war with Iraq. The FBU leadership must call on the TUC for support and organise for solidarity action, regardless of the anti-trade union laws.

The firefighters can win, with the support and solidarity of the trade union movement and the working class as a whole.