In defence of the FBU….
It is unfortunate that there will possibly be strikes by the Fire Brigades Union in London over bonfire night weekend. Nobody, least of all those striking, would wish harm to come to anybody; of that I am totally sure. Lets be quite clear why the FBU has taken this drastic step. It’s taken this because rather than negotiate the London Fire Authority, headed by a Conservative and egged-on by a Conservative Mayor whose hostility to trade unions is well-documented, has decided not to negotiate like a responsible employer who genuinely cared about the safety of Londoners would. Political games are being played but one feels it is not by the FBU. Instead of negotiate it has decided that it will respond by sacking those who will not accept the new shift patterns. Conservative Home justifies this thus:
On 10 August 2010 the LFEPA started formal consultation with the FBU under section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. This consultation period lasts for 90 days, at the end of which the Authority can terminate existing employment contracts and offer re-engagement on new start and finish times. This is not a threat to ‘sack’ firefighters – but a way of bringing this long running dispute to a conclusion.
So, the employer can terminate the old contracts arbitrarily and offer new ones with the new conditions it wants written in . Most sensible people will rightly see this as playing word games to disguise the obvious; this is a threat to sack recalcitrant firefighters. Conservative Home has begun a smear campaign against the FBU. It makes a number of allegations about the conduct of striking firefighters which it only substantiates with a 30-second YouTube video. In the video firefighters are shown surrounding a fire engine; protesting. Presumably this is to prove the point that firefighters behaved in way to stop the private contractor, AssetCo, addressing emergencies (allegations the FBU have categorically denied).
You notice several things about this fireengine; one thing is that it is clearly parked on the kerb (you can see parked, static cars behind it) not dashing towards an imminent disaster. Secondly, its cabin is not lighted and none of its emergency lights are flashing which confirms the view its static and that any occupants are most likely not on their way to an emergency. Indeed, it’s far more likely any occupants are fetching something they left in the cabin. So, this hardly adds up to convincing proof of well, anything does it?
The entire piece is a disgraceful hatchet-job that discredits its self-proclaimed goal of telling the truth. It tells the reader that the proposed changes to shift-patterns will:
will increase the Brigade’s efficiency by, for example, allowing firefighters to do more community safety work on the day shifts. It will not in any way reduce the amount of night cover. *The real reason the FBU is opposed is because the new patterns may affect firefighters’ second jobs. One can have more sleep on a 15 hour quiet night shift than on a 12 hour night shift.* [my emphasis].
Notice how it asserts the authors opinion as an a priori truth without proof or even a supporting statement of *why* this is the case. This is pretty typical of the whole piece which is light on facts and top-heavy with assertion. Ed Miliband would be well advised to avoid swallowing propaganda like this whole in calling the strike ‘dangerous’ and turn his fire on the real threat posed to the safety of the people of London by Mr Johnson, Brian Coleman and the Conservative Party in London. It makes him look really rather foolish. It is not good enough for a Labour leader to wade into industrial relations to provide a cheap soundbite and fan the flames of ignorant innuendo and smear campaigns. It’s the inability of the Conservatives in London to behave responsibly and determination to pursue an ideological jihad against the FBU that is really putting people’s lives in danger. The FBU may not have the support of the Labour leader but they do of this Labour member.