As we put this article online, the Blair government has launched a new
offensive against the firefighters. Despite the repeated efforts of the
firefighters to negotiate a settlement to their dispute, time and again the
government has intervened with blatant acts of provocation. Now, Deputy Prime
Minister Prescott has announced his intention to change the law to take direct
control of the fire service and impose a settlement on the firefighters. This
would mean the imposition of the Bain proposals, the derisory pay offer of 4%
and thousands of job cuts, resulting in the closure of fire stations and the
undermining of the fire service. This must not be allowed. Furthermore, this
latest provocation is a warning of what other public sector workers can expect
from Blair and co. Such measures are a threat to the entire labour movement, and
must be answered by the movement as a whole.
Prescott says that the government has lost patience with the firefighters.
Yet the latest opinion poll results show 63% of the population entirely in
support of the firefighters (MORI 21/01/02). This reflects not only the genuine
support of the majority for the just demands of the firefighters, but also that
increasingly disillusionment with Blair is turning to anger and open opposition.
In reality it is Prescott, Blair and co who are out of touch. No-one supports
their war in Iraq, and no-one supports their attacks on public sector workers.
We have run out of patience with this government and their Tory policies. This
far and no further!
For all their talk of “modernisation” they intend to use the powers of
the 1947 Fire Services Act – which was repealed in 1959 – to impose their savage
cuts on our fire service. What they mean by modernisation is cost cutting and
hang the consequences for public safety. This same policy of modernisation will
be applied to all public services, if they are allowed to get away with it.
This new threat requires an immediate response. If Blair and co want a fight
then they will get one. If they think the firefighters will back down in the
face of these bully boy tactics then they have got another thing coming. The FBU,
who have demonstrated their willingness to negotiate at every turn, must now
meet fire with fire. FBU General Secretary Andy Gilchrist said Prescott’s
announcement came as “no surprise” because the fire service minister had
already told chief fire officers last week that there would not be a negotiated
settlement. “Imposing a settlement by legislation simply highlights their
unwillingness to negotiate” the FBU leader concluded. Just to confirm the
intransigent position of the government Prescott concluded his statement
claiming that the FBU had walked away from talks by saying “For the avoidance
of doubt, the government’s position will not change.” The government has no
intention of negotiating a settlement. Their intention all along has been to
break the firefighters, and then move on to an all out assault on public
However, Prescott’s proposed legislation will not break the resolve of the
firefighters who are now fully aware that they are fighting not only for decent
wages, but also to save the fire service from the suicidal cuts proposed by the
government. Faced with such an unprecedented attack the FBU must now take
all-out action, this is the only language Blair and co understand. They are not
willing to listen to reason, they are not willing to negotiate, they are not
willing to listen to public opinion, very well then they will have to face
action. With the overwhelming backing of public opinion and the support of the
trade union movement an all-out strike by firefighters can force Blair and co to
So far this dispute has cost the government £70 million, and is now running
at a cost of approximately £1 million per day. However that is of little
concern to a government preparing to spend millions on an adventure in Iraq.
Indeed they will see this as money well spent if they are able to push through
the rest of their modernising proposals for public services as a result. No
doubt it is the preparations for war which has encouraged them to speed up their
attacks on the fire service. While thousands of British troops are being shipped
off to the gulf, 19,000 are kept behind to provide emergency cover during the
firefighters’ walkouts. Prescott’s legal moves are also undoubtedly designed
to gain access to the ‘red’ fire engines during disputes. However, so far
the government has not been able to find anyone, including the army and the
police, willing to take these engines out of striking fire stations.
All trade unionists should move resolutions of support for the firefighters,
and call on their own unions to organise solidarity action in the face of these
outrageous attacks. The firefighters action must be spread, to show Blair and co
that the entire labour movement stands behind the firefighters. Labour Party
members should likewise move resolutions condemning these threats and demanding
their local Labour MPs vote against any such proposal in Parliament. Furthermore
Party members should back calls by the Campaign Group to organise a recall
Labour Party Conference. The Labour leaders have picked a fight with the unions.
Then the unions must fight back, not just industrially but politically, inside
the Labour Party, to reclaim it from the Tory clique who have hijacked it. Hand
in hand with the struggle of all trade unionists to support the firefighters
must go a struggle to reclaim the Labour Party. The fight for socialist policies
in the Labour Party, and the fight to defend public services and win fair pay
for firefighters are two sides of the same coin.
It is clear that Prescott and co wish to impose a settlement on the
firefighters. This represents a threat to the entire labour movement. If they
are allowed to get away with this then who will they attack next? Will teachers
find their pay imposed on them? Will nurses be forced by legislation to accept
cuts in the NHS? No, this must be stopped now!
This assault on public services and public sector workers must be stopped in
its tracks. The TUC must convene an emergency meeting of the General Council.
From the beginning the TUC have voiced their support for the firefighters. Now
those words need to be turned into action. The firefighters must not stand
alone. Their fight is our fight. Any attempt to impose a settlement to this
dispute must be met with the determined opposition of the entire labour
movement. That means the TUC calling a 24 hour general strike if there is any
attempt to impose a settlement on the firefighters.
For their own sake and for the sake of the entire movement the firefighters
Enough is enough! Blair and co have gone too far. The entire movement must now
stand shoulder to shoulder with the firefighters.
- Victory to the firefighters!
- For All Out Action Against Prescott’s Law
- No to Bain. For 30k with no strings
- No more attacks on public services.
- TUC prepare to call a 24 hour General Strike
- Trade unions reclaim the Labour Party.