Seven weeks ago, Merseyside firefighters overwhelmingly voted to strike against the cuts proposed by the Fire and Rescue Authority and demanded by the government.
Today marked the third day of Merseyside FBU's second round of strike action. Unlike in previous disputes, there is no military cover, since the Territorial Army are involved in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kazakhstan.
A national spokesman for the FBU said: “The firefighter who was suspended by the fire authority was wrongly accused. Another individual with no connection to the fire and rescue service has come forward and has admitted making the phone calls which have been the subject of a complaint.
“The fire authority suspended their employee an hour before he went on strike and would not have been at work in any event. In addition, they publicly announced the suspension had taken place when there was no obligation or reason to do this.
“Making the suspension public made it part of a public relations campaign used to attack those on strike. It also placed the individual suspended firefighter in the middle of a media circus surrounding the dispute and the suspension.
“In our view it was entirely unacceptable for the fire authority to make the suspension public and to use it in the way they have done. That is not a criticism of the newspapers or broadcasters but of those who have used them as part of their public relations campaign in this dispute.”
In another development, Fire Authority member and Liberal Democrat councillor for Childwall Eddie Clein told firefighters at an Authority meeting that: "You are sitting here instead of saving lives. You agreed to that consultation period and you signed up a timetable. You walked out on the consultation and then you went and balloted for strike action. We couldn't have anticipated what you would do. Not one of you in this room has once visited the control room to see the staff there and ask them what they wanted."
Les Skarratts, secretary of Merseyside FBU replied: "They are disgraceful comments, full of lies. We have met with the control room members constantly. It is this kind of rhetoric that has created strike action in the first place."
Cllr Clein then withdrew his statement. "If you say you have met with them, I accept that and retract what I have said," he added.
But the damage is done, and anyone not bothering to read up to paragraph ten of today’s Echo article will get entirely the wrong end of the stick about the attitude of Merseyside’s firefighters.
In a BBC News article yesterday, Merseyside Fire Authority chair Tony Newman announced he was ready to call in national FBU negotiators. This represents a great victory for the firefighters, as the Authority has been very reluctant to negotiate. However, Merseyside FBU has not broadened the dispute, and they now seem to have accepted that the cuts will come in some form. Tuesday’s alternative cuts proposal showed they are hoping for a negotiated settlement that does not affect front line fire rescue.
The £3.5 million budget cut demanded by the government is a drop in the ocean compared to the amount currently being spent on oil wars. All trade unionists and anti-capitalists on Merseyside have to step up to the plate and start putting all their theories into practice. We must recognise that it is the profit system that has demanded these cuts, and the profit system that has taken the Territorial Army off to the Middle East to fight for control of oil. With the big Manchester protest at the Labour Party conference coming up in nine days, we must use that media spotlight to highlight the link between wars abroad and cuts at home.
Another good opportunity to make our voices heard will come tomorrow at 12:30, when a national rally organised by the FBU will take assemble in Myrtle Street, Liverpool city centre. The cuts in Merseyside are a taste of things to come nationwide, so every working class person in the country should support the Merseyside firefighters.