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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 19:32 GMT
Firefighters under no illusions
Firefighters in station
Firefighters know John Prescott has raised the stakes

Firefighters at Ancoats fire station in Manchester kept their picket line brazier burning fiercely on Tuesday.

It was a day which brought a cold wind and a cold message from the government.

The pickets are under no illusion. They know John Prescott's statement to the House of Commons has raised the stakes in this dispute.

They are using playground bullyboy tactics but we won't cave in

Ian Watson, firefighter
His threat to impose a pay and conditions settlement has taken the long-running saga to a new level.

Coupled with the employers' refusal to take part in any more negotiations while strike action is planned, it places the Fire Brigades Union under greater pressure now than at any time since the fire dispute started.

The firefighters' first reaction was one of anger and bitterness.

Ian Watson, a fire fighter with 25 years' service: "They are using playground bullyboy tactics but we won't cave in. The Fire Brigades Union is as strong and as united now as it ever was. And we still have public support. The government claims it's waning but we still believe people are behind us."

John Prescott told the Commons he was no longer prepared on a weekly or monthly basis to allow public lives to be placed at risk as a result of the fire strike.

Infuriated at criticism

And some firefighters were infuriated at being criticised for strike action at a time when the country is facing an apparent terrorist threat.

Mr Watson said: "If there is an act of terrorism in this country, who will be the first to the scene? It won't be John Prescott or the army. It'll be the firefighters and the people you see on the picket lines today".

Dispute's focus to shift?

On the picket lines the immediate reaction to John Prescott's speech was a call for an escalation of the industrial action, even to the point of going on indefinite strike.

But this was the 12th day of strike action, and so far the fire fighters have yet to win a single concession from their employers or the government.

They are urging their union to challenge the legality of Mr Prescott's planned tough new tactics.

The focus of this dispute may be about to shift from the picket lines to the courts.

 VOTE RESULTS
Do you support the fire strike?

Yes
 44.83% 

No
 55.17% 

6558 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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