UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Oh Mr Miliband! Condemn the Fire-fighters at Your Peril

Yesterday’s Daily Mirror, in the print version at least, gave new Labour leader Ed Miliband’s views on the FBU dispute in London and surprise surprise, Miliband condemned the strike. A spokesman for Mr Miliband is quoted as saying that “it would leave Londoners in a dangerous situation”.
This presumably is the latest attempt to show that the new Labour leader is not the “prisoner” of the unions. Factually, it is true that it was votes in the trade union section that proved the decisive difference between the brothers in the Labour leadership election. This was however, the votes of individual members of trade unions taking their own decision as to where to cast their votes and those votes were cast to reject the continuation of New Labour.

The overwhelming message from the party as a whole was that they wanted a fresh start based on more traditional values.

For the right wing press however, Ed was now a creature of the unions. Unfortunately, yet again, those in the Labour Party hierarchy react like Pavlov’s dog to the tabloids. If Murdoch’s Sun says that Red Ed is intend in leading a trade union backed revolution, rather than calling their bluff by standing up for what he believes in , the Party spinners are determined that Ed will be a union basher at every turn, in case it brings the tabloids on side. There are two simple facts -It won’t change the views of the David Cameron fan club and it risks alienating those who should be flocking to the Labour Party to join the opposition.

If ever there was a dispute that the Labour Party and the Labour leadership should be backing, it is the current dispute FBU in London. For the employers it is about changing the shift patterns. As the FBU have consistently pointed out, changing shift patterns changes some fundamentals of the job- like the level of fire cover that Londoners rely on. What is the price of a life lost because the Fire Service could not respond? And who would you trust to make those kinds of decisions? Those who fight fires or those who want to cut costs? That should not be a tricky question. In addition the FBU point out that the new patterns will lead to significantly deterioration in the work/life balance of the workforce. That can hardly be dismissed as a demand of the hard left.

Maybe the new Labour leadership are worried about the legitimacy of the strike. Here the facts speak for themselves. The majority for action was 4 to 1, on a turnout of over 70%. There is no doubt about that kind of result, one that any trade union would be proud of. NO trade unionist votes for strike action on a whim especially in the current financial climate. London’s Fire-fighters must be sure of their case.

From the employer’s side the response has been reactionary and diehard. Councillor Coleman the Tory leader has maintained the he is “relaxed about sacking fire-fighters if they did not accept changes to the contract”.

Outside the pages of the red top press, in the real world, a group of vital public sector workers are preparing to defend public safety under the threat of being sacked by vindictive employers. Londoners back their cause. The Labour party leader doesn’t. You may draw your own conclusions. Most trade unionists will.

Kevin Maguire last week had cause to ask if Ed Miliband was singing the same old song, “The working class can kick my ass. I’ve got the foreman’s job at last”

On this evidence, he is singing it with gusto.

Jane Carolan