Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/274/24519
Editorial: Firefighters' Struggle Is All Workers' Struggle
FIREFIGHTERS ARE fully justified in their claim for £30,000 a year. There is a widespread recognition that a firefighters' job is more skilled than ever before and that they deserve better pay.
The firefighters have been pushed in to a corner by the Blair government and have no option but to fight. The overwhelming support they have - 68% agreed that they should be paid more - is recognition from other workers that the firefighters' struggle is their struggle.
Despite this, the New Labour government has mounted a black propaganda spin operation designed to intimidate and undermine the FBU and those practically supporting the firefighters, like Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT railworkers' union.
They fully understand this will be the most important strike since Labour came to power five years ago.
In the Observer on 20 October, Andrew Rawnsley commented: "A few of the more manic New Labourite strategists have always fantasised about a major strike so that they could dress Tony Blair in a blond wig and arm him with a handbag to do a Margaret Thatcher and face down the unions. I recall one conversation with a member of the New Labour high command just before they first came to power. He positively looked forward to a strike by a big union. His face lit up at the prospect of showing the unions - and the voters - who was boss. 'We will crush them,' he smiled.
"I doubt that he is smiling now. Even the most macho members of this Government would not have picked the firefighters as their preferred adversaries."
Tony Blair (salary £171,000) wants to prove to his big business friends that he can "take on the unions" and has condemned the strike as "wrong and dangerous". Nick Raynsford (salary £124,000), the government minister for the fire service, now calls the proposed strike "criminal".
But, it is the government who are criminal in being "prepared to risk lives" not the firefighters. Ministers like John Prescott and Nick Raynsford are prepared to gamble with peoples' lives for their own political ends by allowing the use of antiquated "Green Goddesses", which do not have radios and their hoses will not reach the part of any building above two storeys high.
Behind the government's tough rhetoric, however, lies a deep fear about the support and effectiveness of a firefighters' strike. The government is panic-stricken that the strike could, if successful, open the floodgates for millions of workers angry about their low pay and dreadful conditions to take similar strike action.
BLAIR'S GOVERNMENT are perhaps now not so keen at the prospect of a firefighters' strike, and, like Thatcher did on more than one occasion, they may still retreat to fight again another day and push for a compromise through some review procedure.
Yet, with them looking at ways of reining in public expenditure, as a world economic recession and crisis bites ever deeper, it still seems more likely they will try and tough it out against the firefighters.
Indeed, it's possible the government could escalate its attacks on the FBU. In turn the union leaders must prepare appropriate solidarity action in response.
The Socialist Party calls on all workers to support the firefighters. If they win then others will also be prepared to take action to defend living standards.
Trade unionists should link up with the local FBU fire stations in a public sector alliance to end poverty pay. Workers should demand from their bosses a proper review of the "risk-assessment" in the workplace during strike days. If it is not satisfactory a legal walk out under the health and safety regulations should be organised.
But it is still astounding, given the government's attacks, that the FBU continues to finance the Labour Party. Why should the unions continue to pay money to a government party that stabs them in the back?
It is time the unions broke from New Labour and launched a new mass workers' party which supports workers and unions in struggle.
THE SOCIALIST Party has sent a letter to the Fire Brigades Union offering our solidarity, which we print below.
68 Coombe Road
To Brother Andy Gilchrist
General Secretary FBU
The Socialist Party fully supports your wholly justified pay claim.
We have many supporters throughout the trade union movement and we are sure they will be doing all they can to mobilise support for your struggle.
We also have members on the National Executive Committees of UNISON, NUT, CWU, USDAW, NATFHE, and PCS.
They will be doing everything they can in support of your struggle, including moving resolutions on the national bodies and responding to any direct appeals your union makes in the coming weeks.
We have asked our trade union members to make contact with their local fire station to offer solidarity and build links between your members and the surrounding workplaces. We note in particular your letter to health and safety representatives calling for "risk assessments" in the workplace.
We think that this is vital for the safety of workers and is extremely useful advice. We will be publishing your letter as widely as possible
As well as that we also have a number of councillors who will be involved in campaigning for the fire fighters both in Coventry and Lewisham, they will be moving resolutions of support in the council chamber and encouraging all those who can to get behind the fire fighters of Britain.
Bill Mullins, Industrial organiser
The Socialist Party
In The Socialist 25 October 2002: