UK public order & labour militancy

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Thu Nov 14 06:44:24 MST 2002


A measure of the dirty smear tactics being employed in this particular
dispute -- already "the death of an old woman" is being blamed on the
firefighters. How much more before "the nation" revolts? One pertinent
question that might be asked in some public forum is: if "our boys" in the
armed forces can't put out a few simple fires, how the hell are they
supposed to engage in peace-keeping, humanitarian intervention, regime
change, elsewhere in the world?

Meanwhile, what of the major changes to working practices being mooted?
Like, do I have to put out at least 84 fires a week before I get my bonus?
Or is there some sort of grading scale by which I can assess the size of a
fire and thereafter extinguish it within some scientifically formulated time
limit issued as standard to all firefighters? Or, in the interests of the
environment, should I be sparing in my use of water, especially during
periods of drought? If so, is there an optimum amount of water use per cubic
metre of fire?


Woman of 76 dies in blaze at home
Strikers leave picket line in vain attempt to save pensioner from blaze

VALERIE HANNAH, WILLIAM TINNING and KEITH SINCLAIR
The Herald, 14 November 2002

AN elderly woman last night became the first casualty within hours of the
military taking over from striking firefighters.

The 76-year-old died after a fire in Newtown, mid-Wales, which broke out
only an hour after picket lines began forming at 6pm at fire stations
nationwide.

Firefighters left their picket line at the main fire station in Newtown and
went to the woman's house after they saw a green goddess drive past,
according to union sources.

Two fire tenders were driven by the strikers and some striking firefighters
entered the building using breathing apparatus to try to save the woman.

A next door neighbour in Falcon Court where the blaze broke out said she was
surprised at how quickly the green goddess got to the scene. "We were
watching television and I could hear a beeping noise. I thought it was a
smoke alarm or a microwave beeping. We went out five minutes later and there
were other neighbours already out there.

"I don't think a fire engine would have got there any quicker." She said the
woman lived on her own.

The Fire Brigade's Union expressed its condolences to the woman's family.

A spokesman for John Prescott, deputy prime minister, said: "We are very
upset to hear of the incident. Our thoughts are with the relatives of the
family."

In Scotland, the first green goddess was sent to Alexander Drive in Aberdeen
at 6.16pm, only to find a bin fire had been put out by residents.

The first hours of the two-day strike were marked by a large number of hoax
calls, particularly in Strathclyde, Gram-pian, and Tayside.

Police warned that malicious callers were putting lives at risk, and said
they would take a tough line with the culprits. Ricky Gray, assistant chief
constable of Strathclyde Police, said a large percentage of the 259 calls
received in the first two hours of the strike were malicious, and they were
higher than normal.

"The persons responsible for these calls may well be putting lives at risk
by taking valuable resources away from calls which are genuine." He added:
"We will be taking steps to trace calls and identify those responsible with
a view to placing them before the courts."

There were early indications that the aging stand-in service was struggling.
Within 15 minutes of arriving at a fire at a derelict taxi showroom in
Farmeloan Road, Rutherglen, steam could be seen coming from the engine of
one green goddess.

A confidential government document issued by the Cobra emergencies committee
and seen by The Herald acknowledges that the military assets used in the
operation to provide emergency cover will be unable to deal with the number
of fires expected during the strike.

In the Commons, Tony Blair said "no government on earth" could bow to the
FBU's claims for a 40% wage rise. "If we did so, if we said yes to 40% for
firefighters, how could we or any government say no to a 40% claim for
teachers, or nurses or police officers? And if we said yes to all, the
consequence is so clear that it hardly bears spelling out."

However, John Prescott, deputy prime minister, hinted that firefighters
could be offered more than the 11% pay rise currently on the table in return
for major changes in the way they work.

In an emergency statement to MSPs, Jim Wallace, the justice minister,
appealed to the FBU to call off their action and take part in an independent
review.

Union leaders held almost four hours of talks with Mr Prescott and his
officials, , but mainly to talk about the prospect of strikers leaving
picket lines to tackle an emergency.

Andy Gilchrist, FBU general secretary, said there was every possibility
firefighters would leave picket lines in the event of a "catastrophic
event".

Stewart Kinning, divisional chair of FBU Scotland, described the strike as a
last resort. "It is absolutely dreadful. There is not a single firefighter
who wants to go on strike ... The government and our employers have put us
in this position."

-----

Seven injured as they are trapped in blaze
KAY JARDINE, WILLAIM TINNING and JEAN WEST
The Herald, 14 November 2002

SEVEN people, including two police officers and three children, were treated
in an Edinburgh hospital last night after being trapped by a fierce blaze in
a block of flats.

It was the worst incident in Scotland, otherwise blighted by a large number
of hoax calls and problems with green goddesses on the first day of the
firefighters' strike.

Reserve fire teams from the Army and RAF battled to contain the fire at
Muirhouse Avenue, Edinburgh using pumps from 1950s green goddesses after
neighbours saw flames at the windows at around 9.30pm.

However, the first to the scene were officers from Lothian and Borders
police, who started evacuating families from the building and, in the
process, were overcome by smoke coming from the fire in one of the
unoccupied flats.

Graham Buist, 21, was one of the casualties. He had been watching television
with a friend and her three children when police came to the door.

He said: "By the time the emergency services got here, the fire was quite
bad. I went upstairs to grab the bairns but as I came out smoke hit me in
the face. We got the kids out as quickly as we could."

Mike Breen, 28, and Mark Yates, 18, were forced to remain in their flat by
smoke.

"It could have been a hell of a lot more serious especially if the green
goddesses can't start," Mr Yates added as the crew of one of the green
goddesses struggled to start its engine to leave the scene.

One neighbour expressed concern that residents were only taken to safety
after the fire had been extinguished.

He said: "I heard that the ladders on the green goddesses would have been
too short to reach the trapped people."

Last night, police were treating the fire as "suspicious" and said a youth
had been detained for questioning at Drylaw police station.

The two officers were named as PCs Stuart Ross and Shona Daly. The officers,
Mr Buist and a 29-year-old woman and her three young children were taken to
the Royal Infirmary and treated for smoke inhalation.

There were some indications across Scotland last night that the ageing green
goddesses were struggling.

Within 15 minutes of arriving at a fire in a derelict taxi office and former
car workshop in Farmeloan Road, Rutherglen, steam could be seen coming from
the engine of one.

The crew from Carmunnock Road in Glasgow were called at 8pm as flames shot
out of the roof of the building.

It was next to the Motorworld car showroom and 30 yards from a petrol
station where gas canisters were on the forecourt.

A second appliance arrived to help at 8.30pm.The blaze disrupted rail
services on the West Coast main line, cutting off the power supply on a
section of track.

The situation was still being assessed but early indications were that
services from Glasgow to London, Birmingham, and Manchester could be subject
to delays or cancellations for the remainder of the night and throughout
today.

A spokesman for the Strathclyde force area said the fire was not believed to
be suspicious.

In its hurry to get to a call in Aberdeen, one green goddess tried to take a
shortcut across a grassy area near Aberdeen beach but got stuck in the mud.

It was in danger of becoming bogged down as it tried to drive out of a rut,
but managed to reverse out at speed and made it to the call-out at around
10pm.

It was one of two green goddesses which responded to a call to attend at the
Beach View high-rise block at Aberdeen beach following reports of smoke.

The crews found a bin on fire, the second in the city last night.

The first occurred in a tenement block in Alexander Drive, minutes after the
strike began at 6.16pm - which was thought to be the first call out in
Scotland.

The green goddess arrived at the scene to find that the bin fire had already
been extinguished by residents.

As well as attending the many genuine calls around the country, the military
fire crews were plagued with hoax calls.

Statistics for the first few hours of the strike revealed that the
Strathclyde area received 259 calls, of which only 20 were genuine.

Tayside received 26 calls, of which almost half were malicious, and Grampian
received five calls, two of which were hoaxes.

Innes Skene, chief inspector with Grampian police, said: "When resources in
man- power and equipment are extremely limited, hoax calls could easily put
people's lives at risk or even end in tragedy."

-----

The pickets walk out, sombre but defiant
Union chief claim firefighters have made toughest decision of their lives

VALERIE HANNAH and JEAN WEST
The Herald, 14 November 2002

UK claimant-count unemployment yet again defied City expectations by falling
further last month, but joblessness rose on the government's favoured
International Labour Organisation (ILO) measure.

The conflicting signals coincided with news that headline annual average
earnings growth was unchanged between August and September at 3.8%.

Unemployment on the survey-based ILO measure was at a near two-year high of
1.54 million, rising 45,000 between the April to June and July to September
quarters. This jobless rate rose from 5.1% to 5.3%.

The ILO measure attempts also to capture those looking for work, but not
claiming benefit.

Lucy O'Carroll, head of UK macroeconomics at Royal Bank of Scotland,
believed the rise in ILO unemployment might be reflecting the many workers
who have been laid off in the City of London.

Stockbroker Gerrard said the divergence between the ILO and claimant-count
measures was greater than at any time in the past decade.

It added that many laid off in financial services would not be taking up
Jobseekers Allowance, given high salaries and pay-offs, while public sector
and retail recruitment would be taking people off benefit. There has also
been a huge increase in part-time work.

National Statistics said UK claimant-count unemployment fell by a
seasonally-adjusted 4500 to 940,500 last month - the lowest level since
October, 1975.

Claimant-count unemployment continues to defy the economic slowdown. The
rate was unchanged at 3.1% last month.

In Scotland, claimant-count unemployment fell by a seasonally-adjusted 800
last month to 100,500. It is down 4200 on a year earlier, in spite of
lay-offs by electronics groups including NEC of Japan.

However, both the Scottish and UK figures highlight the troubles of
manufacturing and the much superior perform-ance of the services sector.

In Scotland, the number of manufacturing jobs had fallen from 317,000 in
June, 1999, to 270,000 by June this year.

In the UK as a whole, the number of manufacturing jobs in the three months
to September was down 159,000 on a year earlier at 3.65 million.

The headline average earnings rate, which compares the latest three months
with a year earlier, remains comfortably less than the 4.5% figure which
would give the Bank of England's monetary policy committee cause for
concern.

However, there are continuing signs of growing wage pressures in a public
sector in which the government is investing heavily. O'Carroll used the
firefighters' dispute to highlight "pent-up (wage) pressures" in the public
sector.

Annual earnings growth in the public sector rose from 3.4% in August to 3.6%
in September.

O'Carroll said: "Potentially, we could see public sector earnings go
somewhat higher in the coming year on the back of industrial unrest and the
pressure to increase the number of public sector (workers)."

She predicted a "small steady rise" in ILO unemployment over the coming year
because it had been so low for so long, but emphasised: "It is not to say we
expect huge rises in unemployment."

-----

We will not yield to 40% says Blair
CATHERINE MacLEOD
The Herald, 14 November 2002

TONY Blair emphatically denounced the firefighters' decision to strike over
a 40% pay claim yesterday as he insisted "there is no government on earth
that could yield to such a claim".

Making a last-ditch appeal for "common sense to prevail" the prime minister
took the unusual step of addressing the firefighters' dispute during the
debate on the Queen's speech.

As both sides battled furiously to win the public relations battle, Mr
Blair, who is now adamant that no new money should be awarded to the
firefighters without extensive modernisation of working practices, signalled
the government's determination to maintain hardline opposition to the pay
claim.

He said: "I am sorry the leadership of the Fire Brigades Union have chosen
confrontation. They have been offered 11% over two years. That is more than
(for) nurses. It's more than teachers and more than police officers. All
that is asked in return is modernisation of plainly outdated practices."

He dismissed suggestions that the Bain review was biased as "palpably
absurd", and raised fears that such an ambitious pay award for firefighters
would open the flood gates for other public sector workers.

He said: "If we said yes to all, the consequence is so clear that it hardly
bears spelling out. After all that hard work to stabilise the economy, we
would simply wreck it and take this country back to days that I believe we
all hope have gone forever.

"No government, certainly not this government, wants a confrontation,
especially not at this time.

"The suggestion that amidst the current security issues the government has
tried to engineer this strike is offensive and it is wrong.

"On the contrary, we have tried our utmost to be as reasonable and generous
as possible - within the limits of what is possible," he added.

Charles Kennedy, Liberal Democrat leader, told MPs: "The FBU leadership must
recognise they should have contributed to the Bain inquiry properly to begin
with.

"We certainly share the view that there has to be restructuring, that that
can accompany the additional salary increases that are on the table."

He called on Gordon Brown to "recognise your obligation to help local
authorities to actually make that package possible."

He added: "It will cost more in the short term to save more in the longer
term and I think the government has got to recognise that."

Mr Kennedy criticised as "immature and inflammatory" a comment by Bernard
Jenkin, shadow defence secretary, on television on Tuesday that "you almost
wonder whether the firefighters' union is being paid by Saddam Hussein".

In Holyrood, Jim Wallace, justice minister, last night appealed to the FBU
to call off its industrial action and take part in the independent review
which had been offered to them.




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