Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fire Authority Sticks the Knife In (Symbolically At Least)

The following facts are all we know for certain. A non-union firefighter - who sided with the Fire Authority's cuts agenda last year by crossing the Fire Brigades Union picket line - was badly injured when he tried to put one of his boots on. His foot was sliced open when he brought it down on a Stanley knife blade.

But for Chief Fire Officer Tony McGuirk and the Daily Post, this is an open and shut case. 'Police investigate sabotage as firefighter has foot cut open in 'revenge' incident' screamed Saturday's front page. However, there is every reason to doubt the Daily Post/Fire Authority version of events, that 'malicious colleagues' planted the blade in the boot as some kind of retribution.

Since the partial defeat of their cuts agenda last summer, Merseyside Fire Authority have been steadily stepping up provocations against the FBU. In November, letters were served to fourteen emergency crew members, calling them to hearings over trivial incidents during the September walkout, including one for 'smiling aggressively'. Then a firefighter got in trouble for drinking a cup of tea. Just last Monday, management locked FBU members out of their own meeting at West Derby fire station, forcing them to hold the meeting in the rain.

After four weeks of strike action last year, Merseyside FBU succeeded in saving essential services from £3.5 million cuts demanded by the government. Instead, the cuts were moved away from the frontline. A hardcore of non-union firefighters - along with normally pen-pushing 'fantasy firefighters' - kept a skeleton service going during the strike. In doing so, they aided the Authority's campaign to sack unionised firefighters and cut the number of fire engines. Though they earned time and a half for their trouble, they also earned the distrust of firefighters, who saw them as Judas figures and tools of the bosses.

So Merseyside FBU members have every reason to dislike the non-unionised scabs, who sold out their fellow workers. But the union had beaten the Authority, and held widespread support amongst the general public, who largely recognised that they too depend on there being a large, well-equipped fire service. In any police investigation, the first question asked is supposed to be 'who benefits?' Merseyside FBU certainly doesn't gain anything from this kind of publicity.

Merseyside Chief Fire Officer Tony McGuirk wasted no time in acting as judge and jury. He sent a letter to all members of staff - which the Post gleefully published - insisting that there is no way the incident could have been an accident, and pointing the finger at 'an individual or individuals prepared to act in this reprehensible manner when someone does not agree with their views'.

This is just bullshit. Merseyside FBU disagreed with McGuirk's view that drastic cuts could somehow result in a better service, so they took him on and won. In response, the Fire Authority have embarked on a campaign of bitter recrimination that has left morale on the floor. Whoever planted the blade, McGuirk bears much of the responsibility.

On Friday night, Les Skarratts, secretary of the Merseyside FBU branch, said: "The way McGuirk has dealt with this is unacceptable and highly inflammatory. I find it outrageous that someone who could be involved in the investigation can say categorically it was caused maliciously by someone at the station. We don't condone this kind of behaviour but we also don't necessarily believe there was a malicious incident. It is a matter of police investigation so I cannot comment on the details."

If the police do charge someone with this offence, there is now no way there could be a fair hearing. The Daily Post has prejudiced any trial, and continues to show itself as little more than a mouthpiece of the bosses. Working class people must continue to support their firefighters, and seek to develop projects like Indymedia, which allow journalists to report in the interests of the vast majority, rather than the friends of newspaper owners.
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