Why They’re Smearing The Fire-fighters
Here’s an interesting article about what’s been going on in London. While the situation is somewhat different in Norfolk, there’s every chance of industrial action being taken here and across the country due to the dangerously complacent level of cuts and changing work practices.
Norfolk fire-fighters no doubt will face the same smear tactics adopted by not only the Fire Service but quite likely also a very reactionary press.
We back the fightback against the cuts and we fully support our fire-fighters both nationally and regionally. We also know the general public do too.
First of all, it is not true that this dispute between firefighters and London Fire Brigade management has anything to do with a claim for a £10,000 increase in pay. From listening to some online chatter, it would seem that at one stage, very early on in the negotiations, the union reps mentioned this claim in a negotiating meeting as a joke, in response to some of management’s more absurd demands. When the LFB responded “now you’re being ridiculous”, FBU reps responded “well, you fucking started it”. Whether that is true or apocryphal, what is for certain is that there is no claim for a £10,000 pay increase at the centre of this dispute. So when the LFB management publicise such allegations to newspapers and encourage them to claim that firefighters are making an unreasonable pay claim (by some standards – in my opinion, they would be worth every penny), that is a sleazy and dishonest tactic of class war. And it is certainly LFB management and their Westminster overseers who are behind these claims. The editor of Financial Markets confirmed as much in this editorial intervention, where he reveals that a story written up for the online magazine repeating those claims was taken from a “propaganda release” from the Fire Minister Bob Neil.
Secondly, it is not true that there is anything scandalous or ‘greedy’ about firefighters claiming London weighting while living outside of London. Such ‘weighting’ applies to where you work, not where you live, and the rules are the same for everyone. So, when the LFB management leaks the full home address of every firefighter to the tabloids in order to hound firefighters this is a sleazy, dishonest tactic of class war. Thirdly, it’s not acceptable for LFB management to use comments made by firefighters on Facebook groups as grounds for suspension. But that is what has been happening, and it is a sleazy and dishonest tactic of class war. Parenthetically, one firefighters’ support group with over 20,000 members disappeared from the social media site after comments made on the page were used by management against members. In addition, a number of individuals who were active on the group had their accounts deleted.
The use of smears, bullying and dirty tricks by LFB management should not surprise anyone that has followed the negotiations. Let’s recall how we got here. First of all, there is an important distinction that is apt to be lost in this discussion. The dispute is about shift patterns and the threat of cuts to night-time cover, but the strike was prompted by management’s bullying tactics, wherein they used a section 188 notice to threaten all workers with redundancy unless they accepted the new terms. Were it not for this threat, the strike would very probably not have been called, and the outcome would be determined solely by talks. But management pulled out their ace with the section 188, their last resort of coercion, and left the union with no choice but to strike. Such moves are taking place all over the country as part of the government’s cuts agenda, as tens of thousands of council workers have been threatened with the same threat of redundancy unless they accept lower pay. This is a tactic of class war. It is designed to undermine the position of organised labour, and bully workers. It is designed, in short, to weaken the bargaining power of labour and restrict the consumption of the working class. In context, it is part of a package of political measures designed to transfer wealth from the working class to the ruling class, the financialised fraction of which stands to gain most in the immediate term. It is also part of a project aimed at fundamentally restructuring the political economy of British capitalism, such that the welfare state, trade unions, and other features of society that buttress labour’s position are fundamentally weakened, and the power of the City, of the CBI and of entrenched business interests is fundamentally strengthened.
So, in the last analysis, they’re smearing the firefighters as part of a wider project of redistributing class power. However, there is a more immediate reason for the smears. LFB are losing. They are losing big time, so comprehensively that it’s almost laughable. The incompetence of the scab replacement firm, Assetco, has become nearly legendary. Destroying vehicles, letting houses burn to the ground, calling out striking firefighters to handle situations which they are just not trained or equipped to handle, are just a few examples of their last display. Assetco workers don’t want to cross the picket lines, and Police Silver command are refusing to provide escorts for them. In fact, my understanding is that Assetco have made it plain that they are not in a position to cover the city during the upcoming 47 hour strike, they simply don’t have the means or adequately trained staff. LFB management are panicking and, as a result, lashing out by all available means. They are desperate, on the backfoot, and – if the FBU stick to their guns – will have to back down and reach a serious, negotiated settlement with the union. I note that the NUJ are also out on strike on 5th November. Many RMT workers refused to work in unsafe conditions during the last strike, causing a complete shut-down on the Jubilee Line. It is fairly certain that the same will happen next week. Trade unionists from across London are rallying to the fire fighters, and undoubtedly watching the outcome. Whether the Tories hold the line with the FBU and the RMT will communicate something important to other trade unionists about the state of play. This is why it is vital that firefighters are not demoralised by the constant attacks of management and tabloids, nor swayed by the appeals for timidity from the liberal media. They can win, they have every right to win, and those supporting them need them to win.