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Peter Hadden

North: Bin The Bain Report

Act to Defend the Fire Service

(January 2003)

From Socialist Voice, January 2003.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Party Website.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE BLAIR government appears to have entered the new year determined to go to war, not just against Saddam Hussein, but against the firefighters. The opening shot of this war was the announcement that Section 19 of the 1947 Fire Services Act is to go. In simple terms this means that fire services can be slashed without any consultation with local communities.

This shows the real intent of the government – not to “modernise” but to dismantle the fire service as we know it. The vehicle for this assault is the Bain Report which Blair seems determined to implement.

On pay, Bain offers a miserly 4% this year and 7% on the pay-bill next year provided the proposed “reforms” are implemented in full. On conditions it demands a change in shift patterns and the introduction of overtime working. It proposes to cut the numbers of firefighters on duty at night. It wants to abolish the single tier entry procedure so that managers can be brought in from the private sector.

Meanwhile, the findings of a previously commissioned government review of fire cover, the Review of Standards of Emergency Cover, which reported in spring 2002, have been quietly buried. No wonder, given that this research project found an additional £1.6 billion should be invested in the fire service. It also concluded that 85% of fire brigades would need to double in size.

It is true that there are fewer fires at night but it is also the case that most casualties occur at night. Again, government statistics show that the public are three times more likely to suffer injury or death at night.

If Blair sticks to the Bain proposals, the FBU will need to give a determined response, bringing forward the strike action scheduled for the end of January. If limited action does not succeed, the question of an all out strike must be put on the agenda.

The FBU must not stand alone. The whole trade union movement needs to be mobilised to give money and other practical support. Any attempt to smash the FBU, using the courts or anti-union laws, should be answered by solidarity action. The firefighters can win, but they will need real support and solidarity from other trade unionists and from the working class communities to do so.

Tony Maguire, secretary of the Northern Ireland region of the FBU, comments on the implications of the Bain Report:

“FBU members always suspected that we would be shafted with Bain. Our campaign for a fair wage for what we do is one issue, but Bain is quite another.

“We believe that the Review was engineered in such a fashion as to demoralise the rank and file FBU member and help create the situation whereby they could easily be demonised by an already hostile media. Let’s not be in any doubt, if the Bain review is implemented it will impact ruthlessly on the terms and conditions of firefighters and emergency fire control staff, but it will also impact on the safety of every citizen in the country.

“Decisions to decommission or redeploy safety critical fire service resources could, and no doubt will be taken unilaterally by careerist chief fire officers on the basis of cost alone, and neither the unions, nor the public need be consulted!

“This is the opening of the floodgate that the FBU has, for many years held closed in the interests of public safety. It is the public, and in particular people living in low cost, poorly maintained housing in need of modernisation that will pay for this madness with their lives!”

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