Interviews with firefighters (Britain)

Nigel Irritable nigel_irritable at yahoo.com
Thu Jan 23 10:24:17 MST 2003


The interviews below appear in this weeks issue of
"The Socialist", the newspaper of the Socialist Party.

Is mise le meas
Brian Cahill
----------------------------------------------------


Solid support for firefighters pay strike
MATTHEW RICHARDSON from Lincoln reports how, led by a
fire tender and carrying a coffin to symbolise the
demise of the fire service, 200 firefighters and
supporters marched through the centre of Lincoln.

Speakers from UNISON and TGWU pledged their solidarity
with the FBU. And Lincoln FBU brigade secretary Barry
Foster said: "We will not accept station cuts to fund
any pay rise. Employers are preparing a second rate,
understaffed, demoralised service. We will not let it
happen."

NEIL MACPHERSON, brigade secretary of Mid and West
Wales FBU, spoke to Ken Smith: "The main issue is
still pay, along with the implications of the Bain
report on job losses, stations closures and changes in
working practises. All of which will have a
devastating effect on the protection offered to the
public.

"Public support is holding up well, despite the biased
reporting. People know we're not being selfish, like
the Tories and government ministers claim.

"But we're in this situation, coinciding with the
government preparing war against Iraq. We don't want
to see any troops or the people in Iraq killed, and we
think it is wrong that the government are trying to
morally blackmail us into working.

"Whether we are in work or not will not save soldiers
and civilian lives. That's why the FBU is also
opposing this war that no one wants.

"I don't think the strikes before Christmas should
have been suspended and things could have been brought
to a head. This branch had a meeting last night (20
January), which passed a resolution supporting an
all-out strike.

"Personally I think we should escalate the action. The
attitude of the members is hardening every day.

"I think the strike can be won, we are determined to
win. Other unions should come out publicly and support
us and organise supportive action. Tell the union
leaders 'sod the anti-union laws, we've got to do
something to defend the FBU'.

"The FBU could look at organising a conference to
raise the issue of practical solidarity action. It's
not just an attack on the FBU but the whole public
sector and at the very least, we should be mounting a
joint struggle with other public-sector unions to take
on the government.

"I've handed out 1,500 forms to every member of this
brigade on the political donations to Labour. I think
this will be repeated up and down the country. I think
this year's FBU conference will see the union split
from the Labour Party."

ANDY MOFFATT, FBU divisional secretary and a
firefighter at Morriston, Mid and West Wales brigade,
said: "The most crucial issue now coming out of the
struggle is the lack of service we will be able to
provide. The government seems to want to use the
dispute to cut 4,500 jobs, 150 stations and make up
the shortfall in the Ambulance Service.

"Bain, modernisation and pay are interlinked. When we
first had the pay formula, we were on two-thirds of
MPs' pay now we're on less than half. This pay claim
is just to bring us back to where we should be.

"The government are deliberately trying to draw us
into talks, get strikes cancelled and then at the last
minute pull the carpet out from underneath us. We've
had enough. They should come up with a good offer or
we escalate the strike.

"There is now a lot of support for all-out action
amongst the members. To hold public support we have to
explain that the lack of emergency cover in an all-out
strike is what it will be like if the government get
away with the cuts. It will be the government's
responsibility.

"We should be calling on all the other unions to stop
funding the Labour government. That's the best way to
get to this government. I doubt very much if there
will be many firefighters or their families who will
be supporting Labour at the next election.

"I think we've had great support from other unions but
we need to see that delivering solidarity action
also."

CHRIS BROAD, FBU Neath branch chairman, said the
strike was at a critical stage where pay, conditions
and defending union rights were all key issues. He
said: "The government have upped the ante now with the
threat of 4,500 job cuts. We're now fighting for fair
pay and to stop the fire service being decimated.

"I think firefighters now realise this is a fight to
the death and we're not prepared to lose it. We are
more determined than ever.

"I think we have to go for all-out action and we can
hold public support. People realise that it is the
government that have dragged this dispute on now for
nine months.

"I think solidarity action from other unions is now
essential and we need firefighters to go into other
workplaces, rather than just the leaders of the unions
discussing how the strike should go. Where it has been
done we've received a great deal of support.

"Any threat to outlaw our strike action must be
opposed. But I think Labour is not confident of doing
it. I think there's no chance of the FBU funding the
Labour Party again in the foreseeable future."

"Modernisation"
STEVENAGE FIREFIGHTERS summed up their feelings by
putting up a notice saying: "Fire station closed for
modernisation".

Red Watch from Whitechapel, east London commented:
"We're all in touch with the local unions. All UNISON
branches have adopted a fire station. One said
"Personally I think the Labour Party has done nothing
but bad for us. Both sides have been ready to reach
agreement and the government have knocked the
settlement on the head.

"Tony Blair will never get in again. But whatever
government you have they've all got the same agenda.
Everyone at this station has stopped the political
levy."

A firefighter at nearby Shoreditch said he would never
buy the Sun again because of the coverage,
particularly the front-page attack on Andy Gilchrist.

Bill Mullins spoke to Simon at Euston fire station in
central London: "We should stick to the plan of
strikes and not cancel them. We went more than half
way to meeting the government but they just knocked us
back.

"If they get an injunction then we can't just go back
to work with nothing. I agree that we should defy it
but I don't know what the union will say. We might
have to stay out anyway.

"It's a good idea to call for support from other
unions, like the tube workers did."


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