Dead Men Left

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Private firm "to break strike"

The government is prepared for an almighty show-down, it seems:

Private contractors could be used to requisition and operate modern red fire engines if crews strike next month after the Ministry of Defence warned John Prescott's department it does not have enough troops to provide full emergency cover.

Officials in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister have discussed paying commercial firms to support the hard- pressed military for the first time in the bitter two-year-old pay dispute should firefighters unleash a fresh wave of walkouts.


Contractors could also be asked to cross picket lines to transfer the appliances to military depots - police and defence chiefs are making clear they want to avoid clashing with firefighters.

And which sorry, squalid firm does any government turn to when it has some nasty little business it needs clearing up? Naturally, it's Group 4, who have had some experience in dealing with irate firefighters:

Firefighters and police tackling the blaze at Yarl's Wood asylum detention centre last month [Feb 2002] say they were blocked from entering the building by staff from Group 4, the private security firm that runs the centre.

Fire Brigade representatives claim there was a 'potentially catastrophic' delay of at least an hour when officers were barred from the site - not by detainees, as reports claimed, but by Group 4.

They are pretty adept union-busters, too, at least on their own patch. The merger between Group 4 and Securicor met immediate opposition from the main US involved:

Group 4 Securicor will inherit 340,000 staff in 100 countries, many of them in the US working for Group 4 subsidiary Wackenhut. Union officials representing Wackenhut workers said the business was built on "paying poverty wages, providing minimal training, resisting unions, retaliating against workers who point out security problems, and refusing to work toward higher industry standards". Wackenhut workers, in the main, act as security guards for public and private buildings.

Senior officials from SEIU, America's largest security officers' union, met competition officials in Brussels to argue against a merger. "Both [Group 4's US subsidiary] Wackenhut and Securicor have shown little regard for workers' rights in the US," said SEIU international secretary-treasurer Anna Burger.

She said staff training by Wackenhut was almost non-existent and the firm suffered from 100% turnover of staff in some cities."People are paid extremely low wages, so it's not surprising they leave after a few months. But security is a serious issue and buildings with well-trained staff who know their environment are safer than those where the staff don't know where the exits are."

Just the ideal firm for a scabbing operation, then; in fact, so pleased has New Labour been with Group 4's performance that it allowed the company to continue running Yarl's Wood after the security firm's ineptitude allowed it to burn to the ground. No-one was prosecuted for arson as a result of the fire, the detainees accused being found not guilty, but the presiding judge was moved to remark on Group 4's management: it was "inconsistent with their office" and Group 4 "had shown themselves to be incapable of handling an emergency." Since the reopening of Yarl's Wood, Group 4 have been hauled up in an official report by the prisons ombudsman for the racist abuse of imates held there. A fine company, and a shining example of how the private sector can bring its much-needed dynamism to the public. The dinosaurs at the FBU are simply trying to frighten us all.