Dead Men Left

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Someone, somewhere has got the union bosses' backs up:

Union leaders have warned the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, that the fire service dispute could "sour the wider industrial relations climate", and undermine the public services agenda.

Leaders of some of the country's heavyweight unions urged the government to persuade employers to reopen negotiations with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to avoid "embittering" industrial relations which could spread to other unions, after talks broke down earlier this month over bank holiday cover.

The TUC's general secretary, Brendan Barber, brokered the talks to help break the deadlock, but without success. Employers insist that firefighters should carry out normal duties on bank holidays, while the FBU wants its members to undertake only essential services, similar to the terms of employment for night shifts.

The last paragraph is perhaps slightly misleading. The Independent gave a different account of the negotiations, in which a deal was to be intentionally spoiled at the last minute:

Labour Party hardliners are involved in a last-ditch attempt today to sabotage an agreement aimed at averting fresh national industrial action by firefighters, according to a senior management source.

Some Labour local authority representatives are seeking to derail an outline deal worked out with the Fire Brigades Union in weeks of negotiations ending last Thursday, it is understood.

Lo and behold, the talks collapsed in acrimony. (I blogged this earlier, over here.) Shortly afterwards, FBU assistant general secretary Mike Fordham was clear on who to blame:

“I am stunned and angry. We had 14 days of detailed daily talks and reached agreements which the union honoured this morning.

“A clear agreement was reached. A Government inspired wrecking crew from London has been sent in to destroy this deal and they have done it.

“Nick Raynsford has stepped in behind the scenes to wreck this deal. He does not want agreement on any terms, he only wants confrontation.

“He threatened to withdraw the £30 million transitional funding if a deal was reached. He has bullied these councilors into adopting a position many of them are disgusted with.

“All this was happening when we were in talks to try and reach agreement. He has deceived us, the TUC and the councillors who were present.

“He is driven by vindictiveness, the vilest of motives. We reached a deal with honourable and decent people. This deal has been wrecked by dishonourable and deceitful people lurking in Labour's political shadowland."

Far from intervening against a recidivist and unrepentantly militant union, the senior union leaders involved are now intervening against a recidivist and unrepentantly militant government determined to wreck a negotiated settlement. The general secretary of the TGWU, Tony Woodley,claimed last monthafter the National Policy Forum deal that "[a] united trade union movement is being treated again with respect and dignity" by New Labour. Within weeks, he is forced into a letter-writing campaign, reminding the same "respectful" Labour government of basic union principles. A union boss's capacity for humiliation knows few bounds, it would seem.