Terry Fields Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Terry Fields

Firemen Warn Tories

On public sector pay limit

(28 August 1980)

From Militant, No. 517, 29 August 1980, p. 14.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When the government declared its aim of limiting public sector pay increases to 9.6%, the Fire Brigades Union, whose pay settlement is due in early November, responded immediately with a statement setting out their opposition.

Terry Fields, a member of the FBU executive, explained the union’s position to Mike Lawson, a Merseyside fireman.


The nine-week strike in 1977/78 was the first in 60 years of the FBU’s history. We returned to work without achieving our instant demand but on the understanding that in two stages, over a two-year period, firemen’s average earnings would fully equate to the average earnings of male manual workers.

The Labour government’s pay policy, restricting settlements to 10%, was the stumbling block to us obtaining in 1977 what was rightfully ours. We had been through enquiries and arbitration which made recommendations in our favour in this respect.

The two-year staging was therefore a face-saving compromise, which took cognisance of the tremendously serious implications that repeated industrial action by firemen would have,

There was a paragraph in the agreement which pledged, roughly, ‘thereafter to maintain firemen at that appropriate level in the pay scales.’ The FBU hold that formula as the key to stability and peace in the fire service as far as wages are concerned.

Whatever figure is thrown up through the various calculations, that pay rate for those in the ‘upper quartile’ will be legitimately ours as a right. It was fought for and won after nine hard weeks on strike. Interference with that formula should be met with fierce opposition by firemen.

To be kidded into believing that sacrifice by firemen this year would be met by a redress in that imbalance in later years, would be lunacy. To give up the formula this year would be to say goodbye to it forever.

With this in mind and carrying out its responsibility to show leadership, the National Executive of the Fire Brigades Union are serving notice on the Tory government and the employers of the possible serious consequences such interference would cause.

More importantly from the rank and file point of view, this should give warning of the need to maintain the formula this year, or by default slip once again into the pre-strike situation where firemen’s families were eligible for social security benefits etc., as our living standards slumped because we refused to fight for what is legitimately ours.

To show any weakness now would give the green light to the government and employers for further savage attacks.

Reviewing the present political scene we discussed how we could call a halt to the pernicious assault on the working class by the Tories.

I was delighted to hear that the FBU is supporting the Bakers Union resolution at the TUC, with an amendment. This resolution, calling for organised joint action by the TUC and the Labour Party, correctly points the way forward to the working class by initiating a movement to bring down the Tories.

It clearly identifies the need to couple the day to day struggles of the workers with the need to change society. The call for a Labour government committed to clause IV part 4 is also essential, and the trade union movement, having learnt the lessons of past struggles and the current Tory attack, should rally to support the Bakers Union resolution as the only way forward for us all.

Terry Fields Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 20 May 2020