On 16 January 1978 the strike was over, but what did it achieve?
As part of the settlement firefighters had been introduced to the upper quartile of pay and the 42-hour-week. However, many firefighters did not want the strike to end, as testified by Lambeth’s Paul Kleinman in Forged in Fire: The History of the FBU. While noting that the London brigade had voted not to strike, Kleinman recalls at the strike’s conclusion:
“The rest of the country voted to go back to work, so paradoxically London was out on a limb. We started by voting not to strike and ended by doing the reverse.”
Nevertheless the union’s executive recommended acceptance and this was agreed at a special conference. Today the strike is, broadly, seen as a victory, but some brigades, who were to have their say at a recall conference held on 12 January, felt discontented that the union had set out to beat the 10% cap but hadn’t achieved it.
Their frustration was no doubt compounded by the fact that hundreds had earlier lobbied the TUC, calling on it to join the campaign against the cap, a plea that was seen to fall on deaf ears. A crowd of around 200 firefighters demonstrated outside the recall conference against a return to work, unfurling a banner reading “No surrender”. Executive council member Pete Rockley recalled:
“The strike was successful, no doubt about that, but what amazed me was when it was all over those people who had been the leadership’s main critics and were in a position to challenge never did. And within a short space of time they melted back into the broad membership. It was back to normal for the structure of our union.”
The front page of The Firefighter on February 1978 thanked the public for its “tremendous support during the strike”, from the local chippy giving out free fish and chips, to cabbies who put bottles of whisky into strike buckets.