Firefighters’ leaders capitulate under Labour threats

At the end of May the executive of the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) agreed to end their industrial action. This was the second time that the executive had tried to end the nine-month-old dispute. In March FBU delegates angrily rejected their executive’s decision and voted overwhelmingly to continue with strike action.

On both occasions Andy Gilchrist, FBU leader, claimed that he had won major concessions from the employers. In May he said, ‘The proposed agreement differs significantly from previous offers’. In fact, the offer was the same 16% pay increase spread over two and a half years that had been on the table for several months. The only difference was some unspecified promise from the Labour government and employers that changes in working conditions could be negotiated rather than imposed, together with a telling suggestion that future pay formulas might be linked to professional salaries rather than manual earnings.

These promises have been accepted by Gilchrist and the executive despite the hostile manoeuvres and dirty tricks of Labour Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. Prescott has continued to force through a law aimed at preventing firefighters from taking further industrial action and threatened to impose a settlement, warning them that it could be less than what was already on offer and that the government wouldn’t provide an extra penny. Prescott’s determination to crush the firefighters’ struggle by any means, whether through legislation or the forces of the state, demonstrates what the government has in store for workers who try to stand up for themselves in Labour’s Britain.

The only exceptions will be those who must be relied upon to operate that state machinery. While Prescott threatens to remove the right to strike from firefighters, Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett has proposed that prison officers be given back the right to strike.

FBU delegates are due to meet on 9 June to consider their executive’s recommendations. If they decide to reject Gilchrist’s submission and continue their struggle they can expect little support from most of the other trade union leaders who are all anxious to clear the fire-fighters’ dispute out of the way so they can complete a £40 million donation to Labour Party funds.

Jim Craven

FRFI 173 June / July 2003


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