The Blanket

A Burning Issue

Davy Carlin

In a recent Stormont debate, a discussion took place in relation to the firefighters' demand for a wage of £30,000. It was interesting to note that David Ervine was the keenest supporter for their demand, calling on the Assembly to support it, with both the UUP and the DUP calling for a renewed pay formula and Sinn Fein's Bairbre de Brun warning of the severe repercussions in annual public expenditure if they were given the pay increase they demand. Despite this, a recent poll has shown seventy one percent support for the full pay demand by the public for the firefighters.

At today's FBU conference a strike ballot will be called with possible actions in support of their demand. With the employers talking of four percent, in comparison to the forty per cent demanded, strike action looks increasingly likely. The recent demonstration in Belfast of over two thousand firefighters and control room staff and the magnificent support they got is a reflection of a wider public support for that pay increase. Similarly the recent ten thousand plus strong demonstration in London again showed the commitment the firefighters have to receiving a living wage for the job they do.

At that demonstration, leading members of other unions were in attendance to lend solidarity: Bob Crow, RMT; Mick Rix, ASLEF; Jeremy Dear, NUJ and Billy Hayes CWU amongst others, alongside local leading Trade Unionists of differing unions at the Belfast demonstration. Both Billy Hayes and Mick Rix told how the firefighters would be 'absolutely guaranteed' wider trade union support, with others also voicing similar sentiments.

As the firefighters prepare to give a lead in the pay fight, the government is preparing itself against the first national firefighters strike in twenty five years. With over two thousand troops already trained, the Ministry of Defence is now to train a further six hundred and fifty others to scab also. So the battle lines have been drawn. Apart from the practical preparation to attempt to hamper strike action, increasingly we will see, as seen through arguments being put by some of our local politicians, with echo's also in London, calls for the tightening of purse strings due to possible economic detriment to wider society.

While the last twenty five years has see large tax breaks for the rich, the handing of hundreds of millions of pounds of public money to private firms to make a profit, the public money lost in ridiculous schemes and low paid, non-unionized, temporary jobs amongst many other similar issues, many of our politicians have remained strangely quiet in recent times on these on going issues. Mainly because many of them are either embracing, endorsing and implementing these issues or indeed all three. On the other hand when the firefighters, who lay their lives on the line to save others, ask for a living wage those same politicians come out with such lines as 'we all know and appreciate what a fine job you are all doing but we have got to watch the purse strings'.

So no contradiction with many of our politicans, for selfish interest, with open embracement to hand millions over to private firms, to give tax breaks to the rich and their corporations, in order to provide workers with those conditions and miserable wages while in tandem attempting to put arguments about how wider society would be affected if a living wage was provided to a workforce. I have also increasingly found arguments being articulated in favour of issues such as PFI and PPP, within aspects of the media. 'Two whole pages' were given to a US neo-liberalist advocate recently in a locally based newspaper to inform us that opposition to such privatisation was just ideologically based and not grounded in facts. The article suggested that those of us opposed to such may be just 'naive, - those naive working class at it again', where answers as always should be handed down to them from the almighty thinkers above, 'stuff straight from the archives of the Daily Telegraph as one leading trade union activist put it too me'.

While this type of understanding would not be reflective of most trade unionist views 'based on the facts' and which caused great surprise to many of that papers readership, it is though unfortunately reflective of all the leading politicians and parties who implement it, from Sinn Fein to the DUP.

Privatisation and low pay are important issues that are increasingly being taken up and discussed by the trade union movement as the recent TUC conference has shown. That is why the possible action by the firefighters is important to support. It is ironic that the government will attempt to dig their heels in to prevent those who save lives getting a living wage, while on the other hand being a leading force in providing funds for those who wish to take life in the coming 'war' of Iraq.

As a possible strike within the fire service looms it is unfortunate that the government has taken this position, as no doubt it will not only effect the fire service but other trade unions in the public service and elsewhere. Which may mean that they will have to advise their staff that if health and safety is compromised then unfortunately it wouldn't be in their interest to continue the job until the situation is rectified. Working people only strike as a last resort, with the last national firefighters strike twenty five years ago. Their cause of battling for a living wage is a worthy one reflective of many workforces and for that reason their cause should be our cause and every worker should support and show solidarity to the firefighters in their fight for a living wage .






Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives





Acceptance of dissent is the fundamental requirement of a free society.
- Richard Royster

Index: Current Articles

15 September 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Suppression of Dissent: What it is and what to do about it
Brian Martin


Chief Constable Orde
Terry O'Neill


Yes, Yes, RUC, It's The Force to Set Us Free

Anthony McIntyre


2 Quit Human Rights Commission
October Fifth Association


What's Good For the Goose
Anthony McIntyre


A Burning Issue
Davy Carlin


The Letters Page has been updated.


12 September 2002


Controlling the Streets

Anthony McIntyre


Prevent the Bush Turkey Shoot
Davy Carlin


The 96th Life
Halime Tokay




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices