Predating the 1977 national pay strike, this walkout by Glasgow firefighters was the first full-scale (though unofficial) withdrawal of labour in the union’s history.
It also turned out to be one of the biggest – and first – tests of the FBU’s unity in its history. The dispute centred around overtime pay. Glasgow firefighters had rejected the eight-hour bonus shift, introduced in 1967, as they were already getting plenty of casual overtime. However, their overtime work was not pensionable, unlike the bonus shift.
In an attempt to make amends, the Glasgow firefighters attempted to supplement their earnings by negotiating a local “plus” payment of £5 a week, but Glasgow Corporation agreed to only £2.48, less than half what they wanted. A strike ballot was held despite it being against union policy. In response the union’s executive suspended brigade officials and called a national delegate conference. The conference “expressed their support and sympathy for the Glasgow men” but ordered the firefighters to return to work and refused to make the strike official.
Despite this a 10-day strike took place. It did not stop firefighters showing solidarity in other cities, by voting to respond only to emergency calls. An unofficial work-to-rule was also organised in London in the fight for an improved weighting allowance. Troops were called into Glasgow to break the unofficial strike and on 5 November the Glasgow firefighters agreed to call it off.
The strike’s legacy was that it actually improved the FBU’s bargaining power in wage negotiations, since it was a warning sign to authorities that firefighters were prepared to walk out, whether unofficially or not.
On 16 November, little more than 10 days after the strike had been called off, the NJC agreed a new “unsocial hours” pay deal of up to £7.80 a week more and an agreement to introduce the 48-hour week as the standard duty system.