[A-List] UK labour militancy & public order
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Mon Dec 2 03:46:38 MST 2002
Strike will cost Labour seats, says fire union
Warning of anger and disgust among voters, writes MICHAEL SETTLE
The Herald, 2 December 2002
UNION leaders last night warned that the increasingly bitter firefighters'
strike would cost some Labour MSPs their seats in next year's Holyrood
elections as they stepped up the ideological confrontation with the
Roddy Robertson, Scottish chairman of the Fire Brigades Union, said such was
the depth of "anger and disgust" among traditional left-wing voters at how
ministers have handled the dispute that Labour would be "punished" on May 1.
The attack came a day after Andy Gilchrist, the FBU general secretary,
called for New Labour to be replaced by "real" Labour and questioned the
government's decision to earmark £1bn for war in Iraq.
Mr Robertson said the current dispute would "have a massive effect on the
Holyrood elections" with traditional Labour voters turning away from Jack
McConnell and his colleagues.
He said public support for the strikers was steadfast and once people
realised the government was bent on reducing fire cover "the electorate will
not forgive Labour and that will be reflected in the polls".
The comments came on the eve of an FBU meeting that will decide whether to
call fresh strikes in the new year, taking the dispute closer to the
beginning of the campaigning for Holyrood.
A spokesman for the SNP insisted the dispute was "electorally disastrous"
for Labour and its traditional supporters were "leaving in droves".
"This is an issue which could and should lead to Labour losing seats across
Scotland. The public anger is sufficient for voters to want to punish
Labour. The SNP is the alternative." He added: "Jack McConnell should be a
very worried man."
Tommy Sheridan, leader of the Scottish Socialist party, said old Labour
voters were applying to join the SSP in their hundreds since the fire
strikes began with a "Niagara-like" torrent of applications not just from
disgruntled firefighters but also from ordinary voters disillusioned at the
Pointing to how the GMB and RMT unions had already cut their donations to
Labour, the Glasgow MSP added: "Divorce proceedings have begun . . . The
unions see Labour as a party that panders to and protects the millionaires
instead of the millions."
Mr McConnell yesterday sought to put behind him suggestions that Cathy
Jamieson, the education minister, was opposed to the hard Blairite line on
the fire dispute, as well as the embarrassment of Richard Simpson's
resignation as deputy justice minister, by insisting: "We need to be very
clear that the support of the devolved government in Scotland for the
position nationally is absolute."
However, in an apparent criticism of the way Whitehall had handled the
dispute, the first minister warned "picking a fight" was not the best way to
reform public services.
A Scottish Labour spokeswoman added: "It may comfort our political
opponents, who are currently marooned in the polls, to delude themselves
that our showing in next year's elections will somehow be affected by this
"The truth is the people of Scotland will judge the Labour-led Scottish
Executive by what it has delivered through historic levels of investment and
reform of our public services."
John Prescott denounced Mr Gilchrist for trying to turn the industrial
dispute into a political one as the acrimony on both sides continued.
The deputy prime minister stressed the "highly politicised comments" did
nobody any good and Mr Gilchrist should try to focus on the real issues in
In contrast, Bill Morris, leader of the Transport and General Workers Union,
attacked the "dangerous" and "irresponsible" way ministers had handled the
dispute, telling GMTV: "It seems as if there's a strategy to starve the
firefighters back to work and that will not work."
Ahead of the FBU's meeting today, Nick Raynsford, the fire service minister,
underscored the government's tough line by acknowledging the industrial
strife could go on for "possibly months".
Today, he will publish the government's statistical summary of how the
military has coped. Last night, the prime minister's spokesman insisted it
showed "the contingency arrangements worked well and the armed forces
Earlier, Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, hinted the government was
considering a total ban on fire strikes when he said it did not surprise him
that it was being mooted.
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