Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/276/24493
Fight For The Full Claim
THE FIREFIGHTERS' union has suspended another strike, while at the same time declaring a 48-hour strike to start at 6pm on 13 November. This is taking the dispute to the wire as the union will have to reballot if strikes don't start before 14 November.
But the original ballot showed an overwhelming majority - 87.6% - for strike action for the £30,000 pay claim.
As the comments below show, many firefighters are frustrated and angry that the ballot has not been acted on. Firefighters in five areas of north and east London took unofficial action on 4 November, refusing to do routine duties in protest at the postponing of the strike.
The government has shown vicious determination to keep down public-sector pay, they are desperate to avoid the firefighters setting a precedent. They need to be opposed with the same determination.
The employers have so far made some concessions on pay parity for retained firefighters and have accepted the need for a new pay formula. But as we go to press they have yet to offer a penny towards the £30,000 claim.
Firefighters can use the authority of the strike ballot result and the support they have from the public and other public-sector workers, to stick out for the full claim. The government and the employers will not give in easily but firefighters want to show by determined strike action that they will not tolerate poverty pay any longer.
Angry London FBU meeting
AT A London FBU members' meeting on 1 November the mood was overwhelmingly if not unanimously against the executive calling off last week's strike.
There were about 150 activists at the meeting where EC members Mick Shaw and Michael Nicholas gave a report about the negotiations.
The negotiations had lasted 18 hours over two days but the £30,000 claim was only discussed in the last hour!
They had not offered anything above 4% but had conceded that in the Bain enquiry they would be "compared through job evaluation" with the Associate, Professional and Technical group (a Department of Employment category).
The interim Bain report would be out by 13 November.
The London regional committee had voted that morning to call for the strikes on 6 November to go ahead.
The same decision had been made by the East Midlands, Greater Manchester and Eastern and East Anglia regions.
Matt Wrack spoke from the floor. He said that the Associate, Professional and Technical group encompassed people on £15,000 to £70,000 per year. What point on this scale would they be compared with?
He called for the strikes to go ahead, saying: "We can't accept hints and winks from the employers as serious offers".
Other speakers condemned the EC for suspending the second two-days of action with no good reason.
One or two talked about a sell-out: "If the EC doesn't get it right then we'll get a new EC".
Andy Dark went down the best of all the floor speakers when he said that the EC had adopted the wrong tactics. He said if they were serious about winning they should not have cancelled last week's action.
"Why did the union allow the employers to set the agenda for the discussions? The most important item was the £30k claim and it was discussed last."
Firefighters prepare to take unofficial action if the claim is not met
FIREFIGHTERS IN London and elsewhere are ready to take unofficial action if their claim is not met.
This is the message that they have given to their union leaders. As we go to press the rumour is that next week the employers will offer a figure significantly more than 4%.
£30,000 is what the fire fighters want or at least significant steps in that direction.
Firefighters have told The Socialist that even 16% is not enough and that unofficial action is possible or even likely involving a number of brigades next week and this could rapidly spread to others.
In the event of action - official or unofficial - then there must be massive support for the firefighters from socialists and trade unionists everywhere.
Andy Dark, London FBU regional committee, spoke to The Socialist about the latest developments. He explained that five out of the 14 regional committees opposed the suspension of the strikes. The NEC is going into more talks for 'two or possibly three days'.
A number of London stations have already said they will take unofficial action next week and this is growing all the time. The regional executive will meet on 7 November to call for London members to take unofficial action and will meet again on 11 November after consulting the London membership.
"We expect a number of other brigades to be doing the same."
He went on to explain that the interim Bain report will be given to the employers on 13 November at 10am. The employers will make a formal offer at 2pm and firefighters should be on official strike at 6pm if it isn't enough.
Firefighters Speak To The Socialist
"I WAS livid when I heard the strike was called off. I was involved in 1977 when we were forced to strike because our pay had been eroded. Now we've fallen behind again. The executive got a 9:1 result for action and now they're throwing that power away. On Friday [at an all-London meeting of reps] there was unanimous opposition to the offer. EC members were ragged by members. They were told: 'You were asked to do a job. If you can't do it, we'll replace you with people who will'."
Steve Burge, Stratford fire station, personal capacity
"FEELINGS ARE running high - there's no information coming out. The rank and file firefighters feel that we're weakening our position by calling off the eight-day strike. Individual stations have been taking unofficial action, covering emergencies only.
"The union leadership are negotiating with the employers not the government now, but there's no information coming out - we don't know whether that's a good sign or bad.
"I can tell you that unrest within Tower Hamlets will be increased if the Bain report proves unfavourable. We're dissatisfied with how things are going."
Firefighters at Whitechapel firestation.
In The Socialist 8 November 2002: