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Firefighters' Bitter Pay Battle
FIREFIGHTER'S PATIENCE with their employers and the government they represent finally ran out last week. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) reconvened conference was dominated by their increasingly bitter dispute over pay with their employers as well as the question of ending the union's affiliation to the Labour Party.
Ken Smith reports from the FBU conference
FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist didn't attend the conference due to illness but the conference delegates wouldn't allow his absence to stop them debating the urgent issues they had to address.
Along with the historic decision on the Labour Party the conference also proceeded to prepare for a ballot on strike action in their continuing dispute over pay. Firefighters will ballot for action if the employers don't pay their outstanding pay claim in full by 30 July.
Following their curtailed conference in May, the pay negotiations between FBU and the employers have become increasingly fraught, with the employers trying to install more hard-line demands.
Additionally, the refusal of firefighters in some areas to do anything other than answer emergency 999 calls because of the attempted imposition of some of these hard-line demands, led to the suspension of 140 Manchester firefighters. They were later reinstated after unofficial action began to spread throughout the country.
This led to an angry mood among activists at the conference but at the same time there was an extensive debate about what was the best way to take the action forward.
Eventually, the conference rejected an executive committee motion arguing for a decision-making ballot, in favour of an emergency resolution from Nottingham recommending a ballot for discontinuous strike action if the employers have not met the stage two and stage three pay increases in full.
Also, they agreed if there was any attempt to impose a deal there would be an immediate ballot for discontinuous strike action.
The employers originally claimed they were prepared to sign up to a proposed deal, which purportedly resolved the issues surrounding stand-down time at nights and bank holidays. But later they demanded that proposed changes would also apply to bank holidays.
This means that employers want normal working on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and every other bank holiday - a demand they had not raised previously.
This confirms an underlying suspicion amongst many firefighters that the bosses are likely to come back with more demands rather than pay out the second phased 4.2% increase of the pay deal - due on 1 July.
The conference also passed an important motion on pensions which gave a commitment to organise a ballot for national strike action if any "detrimental changes be implemented" to their pension scheme. A resolution calling for a co-coordinated response from all TUC unions if the government attempted to tax pension lump sums in the public service was also passed.
This action would include a national TUC demonstration and co-ordinated strike action.
In The Socialist 26 June 2004:
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