The end of 13 years of a Labour government, and with it the death of New Labour, was followed by a new Tory-led government which proved to be even more committed to attacking workers rights and the conditions of public sector workers.
The Tories, given a leg up by their Lib Dem coalition partners, ushered in a new political age – the politics of austerity. No sooner had prime minister David Cameron been given the keys to 10 Downing Street than the government started making public service cuts left, right and centre, £6 billion being announced in the first month of government.
Ever at the forefront of the campaign of resistance, the FBU was wise to what these cuts would mean: stripping frontline fire and rescues services to the bone. In an editorial in The Firefighter following the election, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said:
“We face the prospect of the worst cuts in living memory – and we need to be prepared to fight back to resist them.”
After an uphill struggle with the Labour government, the union was expecting to see more attempts by the Tories to cut pay, pensions and conditions, and it was proved right. At the union’s conference, president Mick Shaw said:
“I wouldn’t mind austerity if I felt those who could most afford to pay were paying their fair share.”
In what would be his last conference as president, he urged members to be “united, strong and determined” in the uncertain period ahead. In anticipation of attacks on pay, Strathclyde delegate Paul Wilson led calls for an annual pay formula to be agreed. He told conference:
“The coalition is hell-bent on slashing funds for the public sector. We want our pay formula aligned to other professionals.”
The FBU also pointed out that the government has no mandate for public service cuts and, as part of the fight against them, launched a campaign for a national standard in fire service response times, crucial in saving lives.
The union warned that cuts would mean firefighters taking longer to respond to emergencies, closed fire stations forcing them to travel further, or there not being enough crew to staff a fire engine.