Solidarity with the fire fighters

Submitted by AWL on 1 December, 2002 - 10:53
  • Sent home without pay for standing up for safety
    By a Tube worker
  • Tube: bring forward the PPP dispute!
  • Solidarity around the country
  • Socialist Alliance day of action
  • London Labour backs firefighters

Sent home without pay for standing up for safety

London Underground bosses has admitted that 355 of us refused to work on safety grounds during the first, 48-hour, FBU strike. That's a lot more than the 'less than a hundred' that the company originally said! They still say 'only' 355 - an impressive total given the courage it takes to stand up to management like that.

The management's response was deplorable. Despite their pretence, the company did not take our safety concerns seriously. Managers tried to threaten and frighten people, and then they sent staff home without pay. Faced with having their pay stopped, workers had no choice but to return to their normal duties.

The events of the last few weeks have laid bare who really cares about safety: it is us, not the bosses.

We all know that the Tube is not safe without the Fire Brigade. If it were, we wouldn't bother calling them out so often when they are not on strike. So, what should Tube workers do now?

First you should register with London Underground that you are working under duress - submit a memo, get it logged and tell your union rep.

Be vigilant. Any new concerns over safety - raise them immediately with management, involve the union, consider refusing to work.

Get our unions to campaign vigorously to reinstate the docked pay, and to challenge legally London Underground's victimisation of workers who stood up for safety.

Through our unions, we should demand further safety measures during FBU strike action - for example, double-staffing of trains, reintroduction of fire extinguishers in all carriages, extra cleaners to prevent litter build-up, and further station closures. Some of these measures can be negotiated locally, some at the company-wide level.

Our action so far has already slowed the job down. Engineering work is lagging behind because of the ban on hot work and other restrictions. Stations closed for fire alerts are taking more than an hour to re-open, instead of the usual ten minutes or so. It all helps to keep the pressure on LUL - who, hopefully, will put pressure on the Government to get the dispute sorted.

The RMT has now organised a strike ballot. On the one hand, it is good to see that the RMT wants to stand up for its members. If the ballot goes ahead, we should all vote Yes. On the other hand, we have to question it as a tactic. Because of the anti-union laws, the timescale for a strike means that we couldn't take action until nearly Christmas, so it does not address the issue of what we should do now.

Our refusal to work a couple of weeks ago showed the power of rank-and-file organisation. It was sorted out by union reps and activists at a local level - people who have the confidence that comes from being part of a union.

But the situation we find ourselves in also shows that better, clearer leadership could take us even further. Our pay strikes were called off without even a referendum on the 'deal', and now there is a new strike ballot when we haven't done anything about the outstanding one over the introduction of a PPP on the Underground!

The unions' strategy should be made through democratic discussions and decision-making - Head Office instructions should represent what members want to do.

Tube: bring forward the PPP dispute!

PPPrivatisation has not happened yet, so we should still be fighting it. Yet - after a one-day strike in July, nothing further has happened. We have known for more than four years since PPP was announced that it will be a disaster for the Tube. So we should not give up our fight against it while we still have a chance to win.

There is a revolt spreading through the public sector. Teachers and council workers are striking for better London Weighting. Higher Education workers have held strike action over pay.

The Government thinks it can face down the FBU. But Blair and Prescott are scared of an uprising from public sector workers together, united. We are part of the fightback in the public services. The best solidarity we can show with the FBU is to get our PPP strike action back on track.

Solidarity around the country
Battersea

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 aiden@respectatwork.org.uk , 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.

Birmingham
The city's Firefighters Support Committee (under the auspices of the Trades Council) met on Tuesday 26 November, with about 80 activists. A dozen FBU members also attended.

It was agreed to organise solidarity action on the basis of constituencies, with a named organiser for each constituency within the city. These groups will link up with fire stations within their constituency.

I raised the issue of encouraging workers to walk off the job if they feel safety is at risk, and the meeting agreed to ask the Trades Council to use its resources to produce a leaflet giving authoritative legal advice on checking on fire safety at work and refusing to work if adequate fire cover is not available.

A support rally is planned for 5 December and a day of action in shopping centres throughout Birmingham on 21 December.

The meeting also gave its full support to a Birmingham FBU member who has been sacked.
Other ideas under active consideration are the production of a local solidarity newsletter and the creation of a musicians' and entertainers' group for fund-raising activities.
Jim Denham

Leeds
The FBU were invited him to the Leeds NUT Exec on Tuesday 26 November. Later that day a support group met at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Unfortunately, a poor turnout. We hope that a proper support group will be set up within the week, either by the Trades Council or by those who volunteered at this meeting. Solidarity supporters proposed that we talk about solidarity and risk assessments using the example of NUT bulletins which have gone into schools.

Patrick Murphy

Merton
Merton firefighters' support is embryonic. More details about collections: 07719 283132. or vickim57@hotmail.com

Norwich
As I arrived at Norwich's Bethel Street fire-station a police car stopped opposite the picket and an officer told strikers to take down a sign reading: 'Honk if you support us!' It was, the officer solemnly stated, an incitement to illegal use of the horn!

Such petty acts of harassment have been met stoically by all 129 Norwich firefighters solidly and determinedly on strike. Two member of Blue Watch, Jennie Pickard and Neil Stockham, told me of plans for pickets from the city to visit outlying fire stations in support of retained firefighters who are members of the FBU. A particular target is the fire-station at Attleborough, home to the Press Officer of the RFU, who has been criticising strikers. He's guaranteed a sizeable audience of FBU members when he gives his next press conference.

Public support in the city remains strong. Several firefighters took part in Saturday's regular support-stall and helped raise £1,000. Norwich North MP Ian Gibson (Labour) spoke strongly in favour of the FBU campaign, saying firefighters were worth 'every penny and more' of the £30,000 the union is demanding.

Charles Clarke, Labour MP for Norwich South and new boy at the DfES, has however been so busy drawing up plans to price a university education beyond the reach of many students that he has yet to put in an appearance outside either of the city's two fire-stations. Firefighters at Bethel Street were clear that so-called modernisation meant job-cuts. "They don't want to modernise; they want to downsize and privatise."

There was frustration in the strike office that Brigade Management were not alerting strikers to life-threatening incidents and thereby preventing firefighters from conducting rescue-work within the boundaries of their picketing action. As I drove away, making sustained and illegal use of my car-horn, the offending sign re-appeared, declaring simply: 'Support us!'

Norwich Trades Council has scheduled a public meeting on Wednesday 4 December to support the firefighters, with invited speakers from FBU and other unions. A march and rally are all planned in the city before Christmas.
Details: Pat 01362 860826 or FBU Strike Office 01603 493740

Pat Yarker

Oxford
Petitioning and collection on 23 November raised £315 and was a great success. Other collections have been organised by the Trades Council-based support group.

There will be a local demo in Oxford early next year.

A public meeting will be held on Monday 16 December with an FBU speaker and a UNISON speaker on low pay in the public sector.

Romford
Romford picket lines remain solid and are attracting much public support. One striker told me that, now the engines and the stations had been sold under PFI, cutting back on pay and staff was the only way that the fire authorities could make money.

After Blair's news conference strikers were saying, "We're Blair's miners."

There is still no sign of a support group in Romford, but the fire fighters themselves are organising collections and leafleting in the town centre.
Dan Nichols

Cambridge: taking the campaign out
Paul Clarke, Cambridge FBU branch chair, told Solidarity:

"I'd like to think that something could have been achieved in the negotiations to prevent this strike. But now that it's started, I don't think it will be the last 8-day strike. I think this is going to be a long dispute.

Locally, we are changing our campaign. We need to take the campaign out into the city rather than wait for people to come to us.

We're planning to reduce the numbers picketing the fire station in order to become more pro-active. The public support is still there, but we need to get our message across, otherwise it will start to drift away.

Trade union support so far has been superb. Many union representatives have organised collections and circulated the FBU petition in their workplaces. They have had new risk assessments of their workplaces carried out. The local Trades Council has been down to the station to pledge support and bring their banner. A firefighters' support group is being set up.

The government is saying that it's not prepared to talk to us while the strike is on. But we've already called off twelve days of strikes in order to allow negotiations to continue. I expect there will be serious negotiations during the four days that we're back at work."

Glasgow demonstrates for the fire fighters

Two thousand firefighters, trade unionists and members of the public gathered in St Enoch's Square in Glasgow on Saturday to demand fair pay for the firefighters, demonstrating that ordinary people are still fully behind the firefighters.

The mood was one of defiance, especially from other trade unions. Speaking on the platform, PCS Scottish Secretary Eddie Reilly said, "If this government wants to take on the FBU and wants to throw the entire weight of the state machine in Britain against the FBU it will be met by the entire weight of the trade union movement and the people of this country."

RMT Regional Organiser Phil McGarry said that if any RMT members were sent home or disciplined for refusing to work on safety grounds, they would immediately move to ballot for industrial action and passed on a message to the Government:

"My message to Blair, Brown and Prescott and all the others surrounding them in the cabinet is that the trade union movement is alive and kicking and we will not be moved."

Scottish comedian Elaine C Smith said she was "privileged to be asked here today to stand shoulder to shoulder with the firefighters and the FBU" because "this Government has betrayed the working class people of this country".

Tommy Sheridan, Scottish Socialist Party MSP said on the platform "The Government should stop taking on the firefighters and start taking on the wealthy and the millionaires."
Angela Paton

Socialist Alliance day of action

On 23 November the Socialist Alliance called a day of action in support of the FBU strike, urging local Alliances to run street stalls in support of the strike, do collections, and visit picket lines.

This week the Alliance is producing the first issue of a national newsletter (four pages A4). The lead story points out that the same Government which says decent pay for the firefighters and other public service workers would cost too much is ready to spend billions on bombing and killing innocent people in Iraq.

The Alliance Executive has called on all local Alliances to throw themselves into building broad-based labour movement support committees for the FBU. Further plans for activity will be discussed at the meeting on 14 December, in Birmingham, of the Socialist Alliance National Council (executive plus one delegate from each local Alliance) - unless the FBU has won by then.

For Socialist Alliance material in support of the FBU, visit http://www.socialistalliance.net.

London Labour backs firefighters

By a delegate

This year's London Labour Party Conference (16 November) was a walk over for the left. Motions against PPP on the Tube, supporting public sector workers' claim for increased London Weighting, and an emergency resolution from the FBU in support of their pay campaign, were all carried overwhelmingly.

The change of mood at the Conference was reflected in the withdrawal of the Millbank candidate for London Party Chair, Chris Robbins, to leave the way clear for GLA member Len Duvall. Loraine Monk, the left candidate for Vice Chair, beat off a challenge from the trade union right to keep her position.

At a Socialist Campaign Group of MPs fringe meeting Andy Gilchrist talked about keeping a Labour Party-trade union link that expressed the interests of working people. Jeremy Corbyn MP spoke for 'Labour against the War', and John McDonnell MP outlined the Campaign Group's plan to hold 'After New Labour' meetings for Labour Party members up and down the country.

Nicky Gavron, the Labour candidate for Mayor of London, addressed the Conference. The selection of Nicky, by a members' ballot, is an indication that the London Party wants to unite behind a Livingstone-Gavron ticket rather than face another anti-Livingstone fight.

Though the Blairites are no longer a force in the London Party, the left is better at winning resolutions than positions. Many of the political positions in local government are held by those with no loyalty to the left. But these people are now realising that life is more complicated than keeping in with Millbank.

The London trade union and constituency left should now assert itself on an explicitly pro-trade-union, anti-war axis. It should call Livingstone to account for his flirting with Millbank credibility, London business interests, and the Liberal Democrats.

NETWORK OF SOCIALIST CAMPAIGN GROUPS AGM
7 December 11am-4.30pm
Swarthmore Centre, Woodhouse Sq, Leeds
Speakers from FBU, CWU, PSC and Labour Party NEC.

Resolutions and election of officers for 2003.
Registration £15 waged, £10 low waged, £2 unwaged.
Details: Christine Shawcroft 07971 684380

Comments

Submitted by Janine on Thu, 05/12/2002 - 21:21

This issue is now urgent, as Alistair Darling has announced that PPP will go ahead forthwith, with transfers to the new private employers taking place within the next month or so.

The RMT London Transport Regional Council agreed at its last meeting that it wanted our fight against privatisation to be revived. I don't know what, if anything, the other two Tube unions (ASLEF and TSSA) are planning.

RMT got an overwhelming Yes vote in our last ballot on this issue, and held a one-day strike in July. But further action was put on hold pending negotiations, and although the talking stopped months ago, the striking has not started again.

It's now or never!

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