Blair declares war on firefighters

Editorial, Socialist Voice Nov. 2002

TONY BLAIR is attempting to do to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) what Thatcher did to the miners. Blair even went so far as to call the FBU leaders "Scargillites". Blair and his "new" sidekick John Reid are aiming to smash the FBU as a warning to all workers and in particular, public sector workers that their so-called modernisation and privatisation agenda will be implemented regardless of public opinion.

A Labour government spokesperson stated "It's now a question of who blinks first, us or the FBU. And it won't be us. This is an absolutely critical test for us, both economically and politically. Industrial relations have always been Labour's Achilles heel. But not this time" Financial Times 15 November 2002.

Government ministers have stated that no weapon will be ruled out if the planned series of eight-day strikes go ahead. The government has said that they are prepared to order troops to cross the picket lines and seek a High Court injunction to ban the strikes.

Management at London Underground have been told that the government will give its full support if they take disciplinary action against drivers who refused to work during the first 48 hour strike because of fears over safety.

Downing Street's support for disciplinary action against Tube workers has led to the RMT transport union calling for a ballot of its 8,000 members on industrial action.

The FBU demand for a 40% pay rise or 30k now, was met firstly by a derisory 4% offer from local government employers, this was followed up by the Bain Report's 11% pay offer with major strings attached. The Bain Report is in reality a recipe for the destruction of the fire service as we currently know it.

The day after the Bain Report was published, the Financial Times in its editorial urged the government to give the firefighters an ultimatum: "accept new terms and conditions or think about alternative careers." It called on Blair to use the draconian powers of New Labour's Employment Relations Act 1999 and sack all strikers after eight weeks. "The possibility of dismissal helps to concentrate minds wonderfully", it commented.

Blair's threat to seize the firefighters' equipment is futile given that it would take up to three months to train soldiers to use the fire engines. However, this strike is, in effect, also an occupation and if the military were to take possession of fire stations and the equipment it could turn into a lockout. The FBU should organise a plan of resistance to prevent the crossing of picket lines including if necessary an appeal to other workers to show solidarity on pickets to prevent such an occupation taking place.

Sources from the military have said any orders for troops to cross picket lines to seize equipment would strain the morale of soldiers who feel a strong bond with firefighters. If Blair attempts to get the army to cross the picket lines, then the FBU should make a direct appeal to rank and file soldiers to refuse to be used as strike breakers and scabs.

Blair seems determined to do whatever it takes to make an example of the firefighters. The outcome of this dispute will be a turning point for the entire public sector in the coming period.

The FBU must not stand alone in this battle. The massive public support must be mobilised to put pressure on the government to back down. The rest of the trade union movement must stand firm with the firefighters. Where lack of fire cover means unsafe conditions, workers should follow the lead of the London Tube workers and refuse to continue to work. If this strike escalates, then mass trade union action should be organised including solidarity strike action.

Tony "Thatcher" Blair and New Labour are once again showing that they are completely committed to defending the interests of the ruling class. Hundreds of firefighters have decided to stop paying the political levy to the Labour Party. It is time for the unions to cut the links with Labour and set about building a new party of the working class committed to socialist policies.

All trade unionists and workers should stand shoulder to shoulder with the firefighters in their battle against Blair on the basis that "an injury to one is an injury to all". Victory to the FBU.

Editors: STEPHEN BOYD - P.O. Box 3434, Dublin 8 Tel/Fax (01) 6772592


Peter Hadden - 36 Victoria Sq. Belfast BT1 4DQ Tel: (028) 90232962

Fax (028) 90311778: E-mail:

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