Our Say

After G8 and the London bombings - the way forward

London terror attacks condemned

After Live 8:
from pressure to action

The G8 summit and political power

Make the G8 leaders history

A sham election

10 good reasons to boycott May 5

Don't be blackmailed into voting

Reject ‘dependency’ politics

No votes for New Labour!

Parliament seals its own fate

A secret policeman's government

Vote for "none of the above"

How to remember the victims of the tsunami

A state of crisis

New Labour and the big lie

Yasser Arafat - a revolutionary life

After the US election

Blood on New Labour's hands

Butler and weapons of mass deception

With 'leaders' like these, who needs enemies?

How to meet the threat from the right

Barbarians at the gate

Torture, values and lies

The silence of the lambs

War crimes in Iraq

The slaughter in Madrid

The unfinished business of the miners’ strike 1984-85

L’état – c’est New Labour

The death of liberal democracy foretold

Hutton washes the state whiter than white

Top-up fees and the market economy

Our challenge for 2004

New Labour's march to a police state

Bush & Blair - partners in crime

London Region revolts against FBU leaders

Postal workers in the front line

No turning back

Where we go from here

Stop the War Coalition leaders and political fabrication

Regime change begins at home

Blood on New Labour's hands

There's more involved than just Blair

New Labour, lies and spies

Firefighters should reject deal and disown leaders

BECTU vote on New Labour link a step forward

Time runs out for FBU leaders

New Labour's one-party state

The blind alley of crude anti-Americanism

Occupation of Iraq - time to move beyond protest

War is a test for principles

Iraqi defiance shocks and awes

FBU leaders who backed capitulation should resign now

Down with New Labour's war - for regime change in Britain

FBU at war with New Labour

New Labour, not just Blair, is the target

50 years since the death of Stalin - an assessment

FBU finds itself in Precott's trap

War is Peace - Blair's fictitious 'push for peace'

15/2: Global marches put power on the agenda

Crisis of globalisation behind attack on Iraq

Tell it how it is

An injury to one is an injury to all

War plans expose fraudulent 'democracy'

A 'regime change' in Britain is the answer to war on Iraq

FBU needs a new strategy

Challenging New Labour

A moment of truth in the fight against New Labour

Gilchrist says it how it is

Time to defy the anti-union laws in support of the FBU

FBU must ask for solidarity strikes

FBU leaders must ask for support now

New Labour provokes confrontation

Italian police attack No-Global movement

New Labour declares war on FBU

Don't let the FBU fight alone

UN writes a blank cheque for war

Blood on Putin's hands

Unions must support firefighters with action not words

Support the firefighters - defeat New Labour

Bush-Blair war agenda revealed

Seeing through New Labour's weapons of mass deception

The US media and the new garrison state

The BEGINNING of Politics

How technology could
free humanity

'Terminator' engineering: A threat to humanity

The future is socialist

Asylum legislation fuels racist attacks

Road map to the future

E-mail to hear about site changes, placing 'update' in body of message



Time runs out for FBU leaders

Time has run out for the leaders of the Fire Brigades Union. The New Labour government has left them nowhere to hide after pressing ahead with the plan to impose a jobs cuts package on firefighters. FBU leaders now have to put up or shut up.

All the FBU leaders have to show for six months of wavering is the Fire Services Bill, which gives deputy prime minister Prescott the power to impose new pay and working conditions. In addition, new guidelines sent to local councils call for an end to national standards of fire cover, envisage the closure of some fire stations and a system under which not all 999 calls lead to the despatch of appliances. Up to 10,000 jobs are at threat.

Strike after strike was called off, often at the last moment in the futile hope that the government would accept a negotiated settlement on terms acceptable to firefighters. But each retreat has hardened the government's position and that of the employers. In London, the fire authority is ignoring key existing conditions of service and provoking the union to respond.

New Labour made it clear from the start that cost-driven "modernisation" was at the heart of its agenda. This is the reality the FBU leaders have never wanted to face up to, preferring instead to kid themselves that they could separate the issue of pay from that of jobs and conditions.

While the leadership resemble ostriches with their heads buried in the sand, by contrast the membership has showed great determination to pursue the claim for a living wage. Each strike was 100% solid and the vote to reject the last package was overwhelming. 

The plain fact is that there was no compromise last year and there is none today between a fire service run in the public interest by properly-paid workers and the New Labour blueprint. You only have to look at the NHS to see that, where foundation hospitals will deepen the privatisation process already well under way.

This is consistent with the nature of New Labour. It is a business government first and foremost. Blair, Prescott and Brown are not interested in "Old Labour" type fixes. They openly embrace capitalist ideals about competition, markets, cost centres, job flexibility and privatisation. In this context, every public sector claim for pay and conditions is a direct challenge to the whole nature of the government. The issues are about whether decisions are made for profit and cost considerations or are driven by the needs of those who deliver and use public services.  

New Labour will not allow legal considerations to stand in the way, either. The invasion of Iraq was clearly illegal in international law - but it took place. The proposal to impose a deal on firefighters also breaches European and international human rights law. But it is proceeding, with only 27 Labour MPs voting against.

Andy Gilchrist, the FBU general secretary, says the Bill will place Britain in the same category as fascist dictatorships, where trade unions were not free to reach an agreement. "It is illiberal, undemocratic and signifies an appalling attitude to international law." As that is the case, the time for talking is surely in the past.

The FBU executive has a last chance to grasp the nettle. They should declare publicly that New Labour does not want a settlement and instead plans to break the union as a unified organisation and wreck the service. FBU leaders should defy the Bill and not be panicked into accepting some rotten compromise behind their members' backs.

Above all, the FBU leaders have to acknowledge that the issues now involved are a challenge to the very existence of the trade union movement as a whole. Other unions surely realise that if New Labour is allowed to impose a deal on the FBU they are next in line for the same treatment.

These are matters of fundamental principle concerning every trade union. The FBU is therefore obliged to call on other unions who have backed their struggle to support them in action against the forcible imposition of a settlement. The TUC General Council, if it is at all serious about the history and principles of the movement, has to meet and prepare to call all unions into action against the Fire Services Bill.

Finally, the FBU and other unions should suspend financial payments to New Labour which, as Gilchrist points out, is acting like a dictatorship. Giving such a government money from poorly-paid members is nothing short of obscene and is like financing your jailers. By suspending support, the unions could help open up a discussion about the building of an alternative to New Labour which organisations such as the Network for Economic and Political Democracy are doing.

Time has indeed run out not just for the FBU but for all trade union leaders. 

Movement for a Socialist Future
12 May 2003