Firefighters are preparing for a dispute that could last at least until the summer, according to senior union sources. Contingency plans have been draw up that are known to involve cancelling the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) annual conference on 14 May.
Officials have decided on provisional dates for stoppages lasting from two hours to four days after tomorrow's 24-hour strike and the two 48-hour walk-outs planned for 28 January and 1 February.
An FBU official said tomorrow's strike was "all but inevitable'', despite talks today between John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Andy Gilchrist, general secretary of the FBU. Mr Prescott is expected to repeat the Government's line that any settlement will have to be based on the Bain report, which calls forchanges to working practices in return for an 11 per cent pay increase over two years. Despite Mr Prescott's hard line, there could be new talks later this week.
Some ministers believe a prolonged strike would inhibit Britain's ability to go to war against Iraq, with soldiers standing in for firefighters.
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