The Labour leadership have been itching for an opportunity to outdo Thatcher in the union-bashing stakes. Finally, these opportunist chinless wonders have their chance; in the form of the fire-fighters dispute. Their public school background combined with New Labour grooming seems to bring out their innate hostility towards working class organisation.
However, this hostility is media-checked and is dressed up in the modern jargon of New Labour speak. Thus, the Fire Service is portrayed as a bunch of macho thugs determined to keep women and racial minorities out of the service. We are asked to believe that this is a struggle between old and new; the outdated, conservative, reactionary working class against the slick, modern, progressive and politically correct New Labour ‘individual stakeholder' mythical citizen. It could be that Catalyst is missing something, but surely it is management who hire and fire, so the fact there are so few women and ethnic minorities within the Fire Service is down to them, not the workers. Unless that is, the Fire Service has seamlessly come under workers' control without any of us noticing.
Reality is stark; the strike was brewing all year, and the Government have been waiting for the showdown as a chance to prove their metal to the City and big business. They are desperate to defeat one of the few remaining organised sections of the working class. The aim is to casualise the entire Fire Service. Behind the New Labour rhetoric, their clear intention is to force fire-fighters to work overtime, while bringing in increased part-time working to cover peak periods. This is a classic case of union-breaking in order to smash working conditions across a whole industry in one fell swoop.
The plan is to follow defeat of the professional fire fighters with a rapid implementation of ever-increasing flexibility, along with expansion of the ‘Dad's Army' spare time crews, who love to play out their fantasies at being Firemen (sic). Despite the smooth message, there are many unanswered questions. For example, how will longer shifts ensure that more women will want to join the Fire Service? Do those of us from the racial minorities prefer to work longer hours? We and our women colleagues can't wait to start putting in the unpaid overtime.