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back to front - keeping control


Firefighters took a realistic but courageous decision at their union's special conference on 12 June in accepting their employers' latest pay offer of 16% following nine months of struggle. The Fire Brigades Union has a proud class conscious tradition of maintaining total control of the workplace and manning levels, and it was this that the government was out to destroy.

It was hardly surprising after 25 years of having their pay increases tied to those of other workers by a special pay formula, and 25 years of not submitting or struggling for pay claims, that the FBU should begin to lose control over the issue of pay. It was also no surprise that there were tactical mistakes as a result.

There was the unrealistic 40% pay claim that other workers could not relate to. And the unrealistic call to other workers to rely on the FBU's legal opinion that workers could leave their work if they felt at risk of inadequate fire cover in a strike - this was supposed to lead to the closure of transport, cinemas, offices and premiership football matches, but it didn't.

Again, it did not resonate with other workers except for a handful of class-conscious London Tube drivers who risked their jobs for the FBU. The alienation of their natural allies and fellow emergency workers in the ambulance service, over extracting people from road traffic accidents and constant reference to the Professional Association of Paramedics instead of their union UNISON was unnecessary.

Ironically, these same ambulance workers, with a strong communist presence among the leadership, are close to a winning a pay deal that will yield over 32,000 a year to the most skilled, while their union tries to build the same control over the workplace that the FBU rightly seeks. And of course, there were and still are the calls of the ultra-left for the FBU to emulate the Charge of the Light Brigade. They will now be seeking to replace one set of generals with another - their own.

It's time now for the FBU to regroup and to fight a guerrilla struggle over the conditions of the pay deal, and to regain and retain that working class control the government desperately wants to destroy. Using guerrilla tactics, the FBU has a tremendous capacity to confound, to beat the enemy where it is weak, withdraw when it is strong and to harry the enemy when it pursues.

These are supreme tactics of active defence and the FBU can still inspire the working class by demonstrating their imagination in developing these industrial tactics rather than falling into the ultra left's divisive game over whose turn it is to be the general.

Although this battle is over, there is still a war to fight.