Ed Miliband seems to be setting himself, and the Labour Party, up as some kind of ad-hoc extension of ACAS. This is a dangerous game to play – aside from the problems in principle with a Labour leader lecturing the labour movement – it is playing the media and the Conservatives game. His latest intervention is to attack the London Fire Brigades Union decision to strike over Bonfire Night weekend. He said the strike would leave Londoners in a “dangerous situation“, something that was widely interpreted within the media as a comment critical of the firefighters. Given the fact nothing was done to challenge this perception I think it is fair to assume the leadership is happy with that line.
However, Ed is once again being ill-advised as to the actual circumstances surrounding the strike which is about workers seeking to negotiate and behave with the utmost responsibility and a politically-motivated employer whose agenda has nothing to do with improving ‘efficiency’ and everything to do with an ideological and political attack on a trade union. The change in shift-patterns is the much trailed reason for the dispute but to make that the primary cause is to miss the point. Yes, the FBU have issues with the change but the real dispute is over the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (headed by the Conservative Party’s Brian Coleman) deciding to impose its will by fiat.
Acting under section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 the LFEPA started a process which will, after 90 days, place them in a position where they may legally sack all 5,600 firefighters, and offer them re-employment on unilaterally imposed contracts. So, this is negotiation but negotiation with a fully-loaded gun placed to the head of one party. Is this a responsible way of negotiating? If Ed Miliband thinks so then I think he should be honest with the movement and the party. Matt Wrack has made it quite clear that if these sacking notices are removed then the strikes stop:
“If the dismissals are lifted now, the strike will be called off straight away.”
However, they will not be removed because Coleman is making a political stand. In this he will no doubt be supported by the notoriously anti-union Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Coleman did not even turn-up to talks scheduled for yesterday yet still the right-wing media somehow managed to be full of stories which made it sound like the non-appearance of Coleman was the FBU’s fault. In their actions, Coleman and Johnson are giving us a foretaste of what to expect from the Conservative Party nationally. It is quite clear to me that the responsibility for the ‘dangerous situation’ that Londoners find themselves in lies not with the FBU but with the Conservative Party in London. A Labour leader should be making that clear; not letting them off the hook while they play political games with people’s lives.