Fire Brigades Union
Anger at the Government's treatment of firefighters since the 2002 pay dispute came to a head on 17 June when the Fire Brigades Union conference voted overwhelmingly to disaffiliate from the Labour Party.
By Nick Holden
After suspending conference on 11 May the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) exec went into extensive negotiations with the employers over the conditions they wanted to implement in stage two of the 2002 pay award.
The Fire Brigades Union conference has voted approximately five to one in favour of disaffiliating from the Labour Party. A formal card vote is still being counted as I write.
The defeat of the union Executive's alternative proposal, to remain affiliated but open up the possibility of supporting some non-Labour candidates, was ensured by the members' utter frustration with being repeatedly let down by this once popular and reputedly left-wing union leadership.
Resist the sell-out, reject the deal
Firefighters fighting further attacks on their terms and conditions found this week that the FBU leadership was intent on negotiating a deal which would open the door to changes in the four-watch shift system, and even allow fire service management the option of closing some fire stations overnight, even while it encouraged firefighters to risk suspension in pursuit of a union policy it no longer believed in.
The conference of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) was suspended on its first day (11 May), following the collapse of talks between the FBU leadership and the employers over the implementation of the latest stage in the deal which brought the firefighters' strike to an end a year ago.
The Fire Brigades Union estimates that unofficial industrial action (mostly work-to-rules or 999-only) is taking place in 85% of brigades across Britain. The action is underpinned by discontent over pay and conditions, and has been sparked by victimisations. As of 20 May, 47 firefighters in the Manchester area were suspended. The AWL urges all trade unionists to ring Salford Fire Station with messages of support: 0161 908 9703/01/02, or fax to 0161 908 9700.
Nineteen firefighters in Manchester have been sent home without pay in what is increasingly looking like a management lock-out in a bid to break the Fire Brigades' Union before it holds a recall conference next month to consider a strike ballot.
Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets have voted by 122 to 21 to take industrial action short of a strike in a dispute over plans by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) to force firefighters to attend ambulance calls. The union balloted its members after managers refused to enter negotiations.
West Midlands FBU will be protesting on 22 March to demand that the Fire Service reinstates Steve Godward.
Steve was sacked over allegations arising from the FBU strike a year ago. He has successfully pusued a campaign to clear his name. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has concluded that Steve should not have been sacked. And yet his employer has not given him his job back, and is instead trying to appeal.
Below is a letter from Steve's FBU branch giving details of the case, and inviting you to support the protest.
The leadership of the FBU are preparing to follow the RMT into conflict with the Labour Party leadership, by proposing to next month's FBU conference a shake-up of the union's political activity. This will include a reduction in donations to the Labour Party, and a move which would return FBU policy to the position of the 2001 conference - with the exception that this time, the leadership will be proposing it, rather than fighting it.
The leadership of the Fire Brigades Union is to recommend cutting donations to Labour and might redirect funding to other parties.
The FBU leadership states:
By Colin Foster
The Labour Party has expelled the railworkers' union RMT. The Communication Workers' Union has condemned the expulsion and called on the Labour Party to discuss with the RMT. But many socialists have rejoiced, saying that the RMT's expulsion should and will be followed by many other unions deciding of their own accord to break links with Labour.
In fact that is unlikely.
By Nick Holden
The agenda for the annual conference of the Fire Brigades' Union (at Bridlington, May 11-14) has just been published and there are several motions advocating disaffiliation from the Labour Party or the opening up of the political fund to allow branches to support non-Labour candidates.
Victimised firefighter Steve Godward, who was sacked from his job in the West Midlands Fire Service during the 30k pay dispute, has won his final appeal (made to John Prescott) against the sacking.
The London region of the Fire Brigades Union says in its "News Report" of 29 January 2004 that all its motions to the union's 2004 conference have been ruled out of order. The London region FBU is known as a strong base of left-wing criticism of the FBU leadership.
Paul Woolstenholmes has won the election for National Officer in the FBU. He got 52% of the vote in a three-way contest with the previous National Officer, Mike Lawson, and Bob Pounder.
Lawson played a leading role in the conduct of the year-long FBU fight for a living wage which collapsed toward the end of last year in return for a 3.5% pay rise. This result is widely seen as a victory for those who wanted the fight to be continued and fought with more militancy.
From London Region Fire Brigades Union
We have just been informed of the result of the ballot for national officer.
Details are as follows:
Paul Woolstenholmes 6,671
Mike Lawson 4,721
Bob Pounder 1,507
Matt Wrack, London Region FBU, told Solidarity about the importance of the National Officer elections
The National Officer election ballot is extremely important. It is an opportunity for ordinary members to influence the direction the union is going to take in the coming period.
Paul Woolstenholmes, Brigade Secretary of the Suffolk Fire Brigades Union (FBU), spoke to Nick Holden about the ballot which the union has called to accept or reject the employers' plan to pay the current 7% instalment of their wages deal in two stages, 3.5% now and the other 3.5%, backdated, only after 'verification' of changed work conditions.
Firefighters win Home Office appeal - more await justice
By Vicki Morris
Four Basingstoke firefighters have won their Home Office appeal against their sacking on charges of bullying. The four - Barry Kearley, Steve Dunbar, Bernie Ross and Dick Thoroughgood - suspended from duty in 1999, and sacked thereafter, have spent over four years trying to prove their innocence and get their jobs back.
Paul Woolstenholmes is the leader of the newly formed Firefighters Against Cuts Party which is standing in eight council seats on 1 May. These are five Strathclyde Fire Board members' seats - Troon West; Annbank, Mossblown and St Quivox; Ayr Newton; Irvine Landward; Busby Ward, East Renfrewshire - plus North Ward Felixstowe (two seats) and Harvey Central, Folkestone. Paul spoke about their campaign to Vicki Morris. [from current issue of Solidarity]
Amendment submitted to the Socialist Alliance National Conference (details www.socialistalliance.net) on why and how the SA delivers solidarity to the firefighters...
Around the country, since the firefighters began their dispute with their employers and with the government, the local fire station has become a focus for working-class people's anger with New Labour.
The FBU are holding a mass demo and rally in Dunfermline, Fife on 22nd FEB
Meeting point is in the car park behind Dunfermline fire station, assemble midday
Speakers include Andy Gilchrist FBU GS, Bob Crow RMT GS, Tricia Marwick MSP (SNP), Richie Venton SSP TU organiser & Jan Benvie Fife stop the war coalition.
Come and noise up Gordon Browns constituency, tell him to spend cash on public services rather than murdering the people of Iraq
more info from email@example.com
Despite strikes having been repeatedly cancelled, and media attention turning from the fire fighters towards Iraq, the FBU pay dispute is still alive.
Public support for the firefighters' claim is still fairly high, but it would be much higher if socialists and trade unionists thought more seriously about organising solidarity, rather than just paying lip service to slogans like 'victory to the firefighters.'
Is it possible to have an area of the site where people post prominently details of firefighter support? It's going to get a bit lost if it's all posted as news items? Here's my firefighters' support news:
Merton firefighters' support is embryonic but we are holding a stall outside a gig on Saturday 30 November at the Wimbledon Theatre, Wimbledon Broadway. Meet at 7pm. The gig stars Mark Thomas raising funds for AFC Wimbledon (the non-league club that many Wimbledon fans support now that Wimbledon FC is going to Milton Keynes). More details about the stall: 07719 283132 / firstname.lastname@example.org .
Battersea and Wandsworth TUC has set up a support group. Next meeting is 7.30pm, at LARA Community Centre, St John's Hill, nr Clapham Junction on Tuesday 3 December. More details from email@example.com , tel 020 8682 4224. The group is setting up a bank account and making a drive for regular standing order contributions from union members in the area.
A letter to all London FBU members from their Executive representative outlines the case for the FBU strike starting on Wednesday 13 November at 18:00. Read the full text here.
Please use the comments facility to post both comments and local reports.
As we go to press the Fire Brigade Union are holding talks with the Government over their pay claim of £30,000 a year. The union suspended two 48-hour strikes planned for 29-30 October and 2-3 November after talks with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott appeared to indicate at least part of the union's claim would be met by the Government. An eight day strike is due to start on 6 November unless a deal is made.
Editorial from Solidarity 3/15, 31 October 2002
A Solidarity reader's recollection of the first national Fire Brigade strike.
Where were you in the winter of 1977-78? I was in Winchester on stand-by for the Isle of Wight in the fire strike. A young squaddie of nineteen, I'd just finished my driver-training near Hull, to ready me for driving the mighty Green Goddess. My Bedford Green Goddess was of 1953 vintage. Many fire-engine enthusiasts have newer appliances in their collection.
The German trade union representing fire service workers, Verdi, has put out a statement, in English, backing the FBU in their campaign for better pay.
The letter, from the secretary and chair of the national fire brigade grouping in the world's biggest union, says Firefighters give the citizens the most comprehensive and most professional service for their safety. Politicians particulary praise on celebrations the fire brigade, but if it comes to payment, who do the job - the firefighters - , then they tend to forget all about it.