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Peter Hadden

Stand by the Firefighters

(November 2002)

From Socialist Voice (Dublin), November 2002.
Transcribed by Ciaran Crossey.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

FIREFIGHTERS ARE fighting for a just wage for the highly skilled and dangerous job they do. But the idea of paying people a proper rate is too much for Tony Blair. Never mind that he awarded himself a 40% pay rise, he has threatened to use the army, police and emergency powers to resist the firefighters’ claim.

Blair wants to make an example of the FBU so that he can then face down other public sector workers who are opposed to his policy of low pay and privatisation of services.

Blair’s beef with the FBU is that they have managed to maintain reasonable working conditions that have been eroded in other parts of the public sector. The watch system not only means an efficient service, it also promotes solidarity among people who work closely together. Blair wants flexible shifts and greater variety of pay and conditions to break this solidarity.

Fire station managers are promoted from the ranks. Blair wants to bring in private sector managers, people who know nothing about fighting fires but are good at forcing workers to accept low pay and poor conditions.

Blair’s attack on firefighters is part of the broad assault being carried out on public sector workers. Social security staff here have recently been forced to strike over management imposed changes in the opening hours of offices. Now management are coming back with another list of demands.

Whole areas of the public sector are being handed over to private companies, not to make the services more efficient, but to make a profit by clamping down on wages and conditions.

But a fight back is beginning. Post Office workers, who could face up to 40,000 job losses if privatisation goes ahead, have balloted for strike action over the proposal to hand cash delivery workers over to Securicor. The result was a massive yes vote for action and Securicor have pulled out of the deal for the time being at least.

If the firefighters are defeated, it will give a green light for Blair to step up his attacks. But a victory would show other workers that determined action can defend conditions and end poverty wages.

The firefighters must not be isolated. Other workers must be prepared to take solidarity action if the government attempts to use its emergency powers to sack any firefighter or to seize any of the assets of the FBU. The firefighters are fighting for us all and we must make sure that they win.

A victory in this dispute should be followed by a one day strike of all public sector workers to defend public services, oppose privatisation and improve pay.

The other lesson of this dispute is that it is time for the FBU and all other unions to sever their links with New Labour. New Labour is a big business party like the Tories. The unions must immediately set about building an alternative - a party that will uphold the interests of the working class by fighting for socialist policies.

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Last updated: 26.7.2012