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Editorial: Firefighters Must Fight For The Full Claim - With No Strings
NOT FOR many years have the preparations for a strike been so closely followed by the media, government, employers and trade unionists.
There has been significant support for the firefighters, especially amongst public sector workers, many of whom have already been on strike or are preparing to take action to end low pay.
A substantial wage rise for the firefighters would give confidence to other workers in their own pay battles. Blair and New Labour recognise this, which was why they were preparing to take on the FBU. But they also fear the wider consequences that a strike could have.
So there was a palpable sigh of relief from the government when the FBU announced that they had postponed their first two planned 48 hour strikes.
FBU members and other trade unionists however, will be asking what exactly this will mean. Will the firefighters get from negotiations what they have not been able to get up until now?
As we go to press the FBU is meeting the employers' side for discussions. As we can see from the comments below by those most closely involved, if the talks do not succeed in going a long way to meet the demands of the firefighters, strikes could once again be on the agenda.
The effect of a firefighters' strike would be more widespread than the last national strike 25 years ago.
Until the announcement of more talks, the capitalist press was working itself into paroxysms of fury over the demand of the firefighters. But there is also fear of the effects that a strike could have on industry, transport and daily life in Britain.
Much of industry and transport would be on the brink of being shut down. Workers are much more conscious of safety especially after rail and other disasters of recent years.
The government has been split between those who wanted to calm things down and those who wanted to 'take on the FBU'. Blair, who initially spoke about the reappearance of "Scargillism", was then forced to adopt a more conciliatory tone in parliament.
The government fears that a victory for the firefighters would 'open the flood gates' to other public sector workers who would use a firefighters' pay settlement as the bench mark for their own pay claims.
Millions of workers would draw the conclusion that the best way of advancing their own pay and conditions was by militant industrial action and the election of new leaders who support these methods.
The employers are demanding, in return for higher wages, concessions from the FBU including lifting the overtime ban. They want to reduce the number of firefighters on the night shift.
They are trying to get the firefighters to pay for their own pay rise by means of 'productivity increases'.
The firefighters are absolutely correct to resist these demands. Why should they make concessions? They have successfully fought changes which would lead to a worsening of their conditions. This will be something else noted by other groups of workers fighting to resist the employers onslaught on their working conditions.
British workers work the longest hours with the least holidays compared to other European countries.
The capitalist neo-liberal agenda has already gone a long way towards making the British workers the slaves of Europe. The firefighters are preparing to turn the tide not only for themselves but for many others as well.
In The Socialist 1 November 2002: