The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 28th May 2004
Firefighters protest at more broken promises
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UNION FURY AT BROKEN PLEDGES
by Caroline Colebrook
RAILWAY workers throughout Britain are planning strike
action this summer and firefighters have been taking unnofficial action after
employers reneged on agreements on pay and pensions.
Rail workers employed by Network Rail – most of the maintenance and
signal workers – last week voted to strike in a dispute that is mainly about
plans to scrap the company’s final-salary-based pension scheme and replace
it with an inferior plan.
The turnout at the ballot, conducted by the RMT transport union, was
68 per cent with 2,947 voting in favour of strike action and 2,246 voting
The union has not yet set a strike date but has sought negotiations with
Preliminary talks are due to start this Friday and RMT said: “If these
preliminary talks prove successful, we will be able to commence in-depth
negotiations next week.”
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the workers’ action was aimed at
defending “their pension rights, to end two-tier working conditions and for
justice on pay.”
He attacked the decision to stop new employees entering the final salary
“People retiring in 20 to 30 years time are going to have no state
pension, company pensions won’t be worth a light and they will be going to
the taxpayer to keep their heads above water.”
He dismissed the replacement pension scheme as “no more than a glorified
The union also wants the three per cent pay offer raised to 3.5 per
Meanwhile Network Rail bosses are taking legal action to prevent the
strike. If this fails they plan to replace the 5,188 RMT signallers with
a core team of 130 scabs.
They have set up a secret process of training and assessing managers
to replace vital signallers.
On this basis Network Rail claims it can run a skeleton commuter service
in major cities such as London, Glasgow, Birmingham or Manchester. These
tactics are likely to undermine the talks before they begin.
Initial talks between the Fire Brigades Union and their employers broke
up last Monday in acrimony in a dispute over management’s failure to implement
a pay agreement reached at the end of last year’s firefighters’ dispute.
This has already led to a series of wildcat strikes, provoked by the
suspension of some Manchester firefighters who refused to operate new equipment
unless they were paid the agreed rate to do so.
The dispute also involves demands by some local fire services for an
end to “stand down” time at night. They insist that fire crews, when not
actually fighting fires, should always be either training or inspecting buildings
for fire safety worthiness. The union points out that this is impractical
at night in their latest statement.
fury and disgust
“At a meeting yesterday with employers, the FBU negotiators expressed ‘fury
and disgust’ at the employers continued reneging on the June pay agreement.
“The negotiators pointed out that the employers’ proposal of words on stand
down time as set out in their letter of 20 May remains totally unacceptable.
A full report of this meeting will be given to the executive council
and thereafter the membership.”
Before the latest offer, the FBU leadership had unanimously agreed to ballot
for a series of strike actions in Manchester in response to the victimisation
of members by local management.
Some 140 FBU members have been suspended, under a regime that allows
management to suspend staff without pay.
The Fire Authority was trying to force through changes to working practices
without agreement, says Kevin Brown Manchester FBU Brigade Secretary: “If
they want change all they have to do is sign the national agreement. Instead
their national representatives – including those from Greater Manchester
Fire Authority – have dragged their feet for more than seven months.
Meanwhile Labour affiliated unions met last week to express their commitment
to campaigning for a third term for the Labour Government.
But they called for a clear, unambiguous radical manifesto that deals with
the issues most important to the public.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “We all believe a radical
third term Labour government is in the best interests of British workers
and the wider general public.
“There are divisions in the Labour Party and the country, particularly
over our foolhardy involvement in Iraq and the use of privatisation in our
public services, which have to be healed.
“We agreed we wanted to get radical policies on public services, pensions,
manufacturing and fairness at work to bring greater security for people at
work and in retirement.”
The unions involved represent more than 80 per cent of Labour-affiliated
Britain is working – for America
TONY BLAIR’S spin merchants are working overtime these days
trying to drum up some interest in the EU and local elections in June. But
the best that they can come up with is the old Tory bogey-man scare and some
childish jibes against the new Tory leader Michael Howard.
There’s no doubt that under the Tories unemployment hit three million, interest
rates hit 15 per cent and 150,000 families lost their homes all with the
approval of Michael Howard who was a senior minister in both the Thatcher
and Major governments. And arguably Labour has “created” 1.9 million more
jobs, 100,000 extra businesses and mortgage rates are at their lowest in
But what Blair & Co don’t talk about is the millions forced to work on
poverty-line wages in sub-standard accommodation or the millions paying through
the nose for soaring house prices because the councils are still not allowed
to build new estates. Nor are they bragging about the thousands of new millionaires
also “created” by Labour through the maintenance of Tory anti-union legislation
and Tory taxation policies that have made this country a bonanza for every
spiv and profiteer.
Britain is certainly working for them. It is also working for American imperialism.
And that’s something Blair and his minions don’t want to talk about. It’s
not surprising with revelations of new imperialist atrocities coming out
of Iraq by the day. The horrendous regime at the US Abu Ghraib concentration
camp in Iraq has sickened American public opinion and forced the US military
government to order a name change and its ultimate demolition. The massacre
at the wedding feast is followed by reliable reports of British Army brutality
in southern Iraq while Bush and Blair bleat on about returning Iraq to “democracy”.
The sense of shame at doing Bush’s dirty work has even effected the Tory
grandees who seeking to recover some of the ground lost to the Liberal Democrats
over the Iraq war. Michael Howard and Michael Rifkind have publicly called
on Blair to distance Britain from some aspects of the American occupation
and demand a greater role in the direct administration of the occupation.
Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, rightly dismissed this
as “chicanery and political opportunism”. Though a handful of Tories did
take the principled stand in Parliament, voting with the Labour rebels, the
Lib-Dems and the Welsh and Scottish nationalists against Blair’s war, Howard
was not one of them. Malcolm Rifkind, who hopes to return to Parliament,
publicly states that he believes that the Iraq war was “unnecessary and undesirable”
though that hasn’t stopped him making a few bob as chairman of AmorGroup,
one of the largest private “security” firms operating in Iraq.
But the greatest sense of anger and disgust is within the labour movement
itself – shame at the sight of a British Labour Prime Minister acting as
the apologist and mouthpiece for the most venal and aggressive section of
the American ruling class.
No worker can benefit from the return of the Tories and most of us know it.
Blair has got to go, together with all of the servile clique that revolve
around him. And only the movement that put him there in the first place can
remove him. The militant trade unions and the Labour rebels in Parliament
must act to end this sickening farce.
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