We are being put at risk to protect the fire service's restrictive practices

The FBU will not wait for the Bain report because it knows that pay increases will be linked to changes in the conditions of service

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Victimisation? I'll give you bloody victimisation. Unison goes on strike? Our school shuts. The G&M in local government has a one-day stoppage? Our school shuts. The NUT downs nibs for a day? Our school shuts. If RMT on London Underground has a strike, then many kids (particularly from poorer parts of our borough) can't make it to their classrooms. When the firefighters go on strike, then most of our local Tube stations will close, and the same children will turn up late or not at all. If the RMT, as it is threatening, then successfully ballots for strike action on all Tube services, then even fewer will get through. Whatever the cause happens to be, the result is the same, for some or for all, the school shuts. It makes you wonder why anyone bothers talking about standards and the importance of education. Whatever the latest cause, from London weighting to kettles in drivers' rest-rooms, the result always seems to be the same.

Victimisation? I'll give you bloody victimisation. Unison goes on strike? Our school shuts. The G&M in local government has a one-day stoppage? Our school shuts. The NUT downs nibs for a day? Our school shuts. If RMT on London Underground has a strike, then many kids (particularly from poorer parts of our borough) can't make it to their classrooms. When the firefighters go on strike, then most of our local Tube stations will close, and the same children will turn up late or not at all. If the RMT, as it is threatening, then successfully ballots for strike action on all Tube services, then even fewer will get through. Whatever the cause happens to be, the result is the same, for some or for all, the school shuts. It makes you wonder why anyone bothers talking about standards and the importance of education. Whatever the latest cause, from London weighting to kettles in drivers' rest-rooms, the result always seems to be the same.

Most of the parents at the school probably earn what the average firefighter does – though some will get a lot more and some a lot less. Their jobs are not so dangerous and also not so exciting. When the fire engine puts in an appearance at the school fête, everyone crowds around and all the children want to put on the helmet. You don't get that reaction when you go and talk to a class about being a journalist; no infant Rees-Mogg asks to try out your notebook. The appeal persists – there are 40 applicants for every firefighter's vacancy.

From next week, in the run-up to Guy Fawkes night and also up to Christmas, these same firefighters will go on strike in support of a 40 per cent pay increase. One presumes that, as a result, the rest of us are going to be less safe and that somewhere someone will die or be maimed unnecessarily. Andy Gilchrist, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary, warned this week of "the indirect cost to life and property should we be forced to take strike action". For this "cost" to be justified, the firefighters would have to prove a fairly straightforward proposition, which is that the strike is their absolute last resort. Given the stakes it cannot just be the most effective weapon, it must be the only one remaining.

But the hard truth for firefighters and all those who support them is that it isn't the last resort. All other means have not been exhausted. However tardily convened, the independent review body, headed by Sir George Bain and including the TUC-recommended Sir Tony Young, will report in December. Yet the FBU has done everything it can to scupper the Bain committee, simply because (like any pay review worth a bean) it links its review of pay to a review of conditions of service. The union has refused co-operation (advising firefighters not even to speak to the review team) and has attempted to call the motives of the committee into question, because one of its members – in private conversation – told Mr Gilchrist that the review committee was unlikely simply to recommend a no-strings attached 40 per cent increase.

Mr Gilchrist's line has been adamantine: "The review is a complete sham and its findings will not be accepted by any of our members." By yesterday one firefighters' leader was telling BBC television that the review was in any case a "dead duck" because the Chancellor had warned the day before that he was not offering a blank cheque to underwrite inflationary settlements in the public sector.

When a union is so determinedly opposed to a pay review that includes conditions of service it makes my ears prick up. Mr Gilchrist is not employed to make life more difficult for his members, and neither is he employed in the public interest. So he will not mention the pension and retirement provisions for firefighters that just about no parents at our school will even remotely enjoy. Nor the amount of time spent (necessarily) on shift but not fire-fighting, nor the way the shift patterns permit many firefighters to hold down second jobs. And, given the status enjoyed by firefighters, no one else tends to mention them either (I can predict, almost word for furious word, some of the e-mails I will receive for having written this).

I will simply point out this one curious fact – that the Retained Firefighter's Union has criticised the Government for not training Army personnel in the use of modern fire engines because, "these [appliances] are much safer, and are not difficult to operate. Anybody who normally drives a Challenger tank for a living can drive a fire engine".

So I believe that the FBU will not wait for Bain because it knows that pay increases are likely to be linked to overdue changes in conditions. And that's the cause for which peoples' lives will be put at risk. Real heroes wouldn't do that.

Nevertheless, in their desire to be linked with popular workers, a number of other unwise unionists have leapt aboard the band-appliance. The RMT wants to try and shut down as much as possible of our rail network. I saw one Unison man on telly practically salivating over the possibility of closing down facilities for disabled children if these were based anywhere above ground floor. Derek Simpson from Amicus has casually conjured up the image of union jobsworths shuffling around with clipboards trying to find good reasons why, with the firefighters on strike, everything else shouldn't close too.

But what are we to do at home, where most fires happen? Why, Mr Unison man, would the kids be safer all day in their own houses and flats than being looked after (as we have paid them to do) by your members? Or should we all decamp to the park and stay there until the strikes finish?

Enter here the unwelcome spectre of the TUC's code for the conduct of industrial disputes, an extract of which is posted this week on the front page of the TUC website. Part of it reads thus: "The General Council advise that for the duration of an industrial dispute, the union(s) involved should make arrangements, in consultation and preferably by agreement with the employer, for the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the health or safety of the community or required to avoid exceptional hardship or pollution."

Pretty clear, and there for a purpose. So it is staggering that the G&M leader John Edmonds should condemn the Government for calling upon the FBU to observe the code. And that Derek Simpson should describe it as "nothing more than a smoke-screen to cover-up the Government's unwillingness to negotiate."

If so it was a smokescreen erected by the TUC itself. And at this point you have to ask whether there is something that the TUC knows (or remembers) that the FBU, the RMT and the others have forgotten. Something about politics. Could it be that Mr Monks understands that if someone dies as a result of an unnecessary strike for a ludicrous increase, then it won't be the wider labour movement that reaps the benefit? After all, it isn't the Tories who keep on shutting down the local school?

David.Aaronovitch@btinternet.com

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