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]
V. Most of the firefighters standing in these elections will be standing as socialists - Socialist Alliance, Scottish Socialist Party, and so on. I know you to be left-wing, but you have a different approach.
P. I am never averse to stating that I am left-wing, but, to be honest, I am unaware of the personal politics of any of the candidates other than the party's Campaigns Officer - it is not something we are concerned with, although it is clear from our conditions of membership that there is absolutely no place for the extreme right in our party. The whole ethos behind the setting up of the party was one of inclusion without the need to pigeonhole people into a category of ideology. Our intention is to represent the broad cross-section which is the fire service, and not everyone in the service can/wants to be classed as left-wing.
The one overriding factor that has become clear from our current industrial dispute is that firefighters feel bitterly let down by politicians. The same politicians who a few years back were knocking on their doors asking for their vote to see off the Tories. As one member of the public said while we were out leafleting the other night: "We haven't had a Labour government since 1979" - although that is a debatable point as well.
V. You're clear that it takes years to win a council seat. You've also said that you want to "create the conditions to enable a political difference between the political parties to evolve". What are your political calculations? Are you standing in order to force Labour - if "only" at a local level - to deliver something? What can they deliver?
P. We are realistic, we do not expect to come charging into the political arena and blow away the three main parties and their complacent attitude to the electorate. It is the mainstream parties who are to blame for the 35% turnout at the last local elections in the ward I am standing in. People have been ignored for so long they feel that there is no point in voting at all. We hope to change that attitude by giving voters the chance to force the three mainstream parties to come clean about cuts in services, and not just the fire service. This will take time but, saying that, we have had an extremely positive response from voters in our area already while out leafleting.
V. Your party is called "Firefighters Against Cuts" not "Firefighters for 30k". Why is that?
P. The party was born out of a frustration over the lack of political representation, and with politicians from the three main parties who have simply been competing about which is the best way to smash the FBU. This is no longer a dispute about pay - we are now fighting to keep the fire service intact. We intend to be around after this dispute is over, and, as we state in our aims, fight on behalf of other public sector workers. We want to make this a public sector political pressure group - the comfortable politicians will have to start listening to ordinary people when their majorities come under threat. The only thing the fat cat politicians understand is a good hard kick in the ballots!
More information: http://www.firefightersagainstcuts.co.uk