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Terry Fields

Firemen Must Challenge Tories

(9 May 1980)

From Militant, No. 502, 9 May 1980, p. 14.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The main debates, as I see them, will focus on four key issues facing members as firemen and trade unionists.

After our historic strike, we won a pay agreement that was to bring us in line with the ‘upper quartile’ [the highest paid quarter] of manual workers, in two stages.

Last year we received the first instalment. But will we get the rest, or will the Tory government try to interfere? How much will be paid?

The biggest question is what the ‘upper quartile’ really represents and how the government statistics are arrived at. Our settlement is based on what amounts to a comparability exercise, but the survey of firemen’s pay is worked out on a sample of 240 firemen. Who and where they are and how representative their pay rates are, we have no way of knowing.

We must call for trade union control over the collection of these statistics and drawing up of our claim.

Cuts are another major threat. There must be total opposition to all redundancies, voluntary or otherwise. We must fight all cutbacks which deprive the public of protection and us firemen of jobs. The full weight of the union has got to be thrown into the fight to defend jobs.

We have long fought for a shorter working week. While accepting the 2 : 2 : 4 system – working two days, two 6.00 p.m. to 9.00 a.m. nights, then four days off – is a vast improvement, it is not the end of the fight.

If we won a 1 : 1 : 4 arrangement, I’m sure members would grab it with both hands, and it would bring us a lot nearer to the 35-hour week that we, with all other unions, should be fighting for throughout industry.

The fight on wages and jobs and to maintain and improve standards is tied up in a cause and effect process. Low wages and poor conditions are not heaven-sent: they are caused by the government and the system we live under. So workers are forced to fight again and again for better wages and to defend our jobs

In the long term therefore, the most important resolutions will be those on government policies and continuation of the programme to fully democratise the Labour Party, with a firm commitment to Clause IV, part 4 of its constitution, for socialist public ownership of the economy.

This alone would make it possible for people to be treated with dignity and compassion, and not as now, as so much garbage to be disposed of by the Tories and big business.

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