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Breakfast with Frost
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John Monks, TUC general secretary
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: JOHN MONKS, GENERAL SECRETARY, TUC NOVEMBER 24TH, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: And with me in the studio is the TUC leader, John Monks, who has been trying to mediate in the dispute but has, but has now seemed to come down firmly on one side to his friends' amazement. What made you switch from being a mediator to being so rabidly in favour of the union?

JOHN MONKS: Well let me make it clear, I'm not a mediator but I was asked by the Fire Brigades Union to join the talks in the middle of Thursday evening and I was there through the negotiating process, at the invitation and assisting the FBU. Obviously nobody wants this -

DAVID FROST: So you weren't - yes - you weren't - you were in ACAS's - no -

JOHN MONKS: Yeah, I mean I wasn't -

DAVID FROST: - you were already on - you were already on one side then.

JOHN MONKS: I mean we've got a policy to support the FBU to get a fair and decent deal in, in this particular set of negotiations. We obviously don't want a strike, we've done everything we can to help avoid a strike. But we are supporting the FBU in its, in its claim to get this decent deal. And that is what I was there for.

DAVID FROST: And people who worry about your quotes about all unions within the TUC should support the firemen -

JOHN MONKS: Continue to support the firemen, actually is what I said.

DAVID FROST: What does that mean? I mean some people say it's a cloaked way to advocate secondary action - is it?

JOHN MONKS: No it's a - I'm not advocating secondary action, people doing things which are unlawful in this country. What I'm talking about is there's a tremendous degree of good will around for the FBU in the rest of the TUC and that's been translated through financial support, through moral support, through the kind of support and pressure that's on government today to actually come in and sort out the mess that happened during the night of Thursday/Friday.

DAVID FROST: But you, this morning you would advocate, urge tube drivers to keep driving now the Health & Safety Executive have cleared the safety.

JOHN MONKS: Well what I'd say -

DAVID FROST: Would you urge them to do that?

JOHN MONKS: - no - well - people have got to do their own risk assessments about what's going on. I mean you take London Underground, they've closed the deep stations that don't have escalators, they recognise there's some risk and they've got a job to assure their staff that their health and safety procedures are okay. And it's the same in other plants which may be affected. So I'm not, individual unions will make their own decisions, but the TUC, we, we're not trying to mount some kind of mini general strike or anything like that. What we're seeking to do though is to bring pressure on the parties and the Government were the ones who stood in the way of the agreement on Friday morning -

DAVID FROST: Oh come on, you're a realist, you know, you know the people in the Government, you know they couldn't sign on a blank cheque for 16 per cent. You didn't expect them -

JOHN MONKS: Mike Fordham put it right, my understanding was there was close contact between Government and employers through the night -

DAVID FROST: But there wasn't on the Government's side -

JOHN MONKS: Well that was the employers-

DAVID FROST: - Nick Raynsford -

JOHN MONKS: - that was the employers business. And I'm not personalising exactly who's involved. It's the, the employers were acting rather professionally, rather well, there were particular points they wanted to clear with the Government. And, as far as we were concerned, on the union side, that's what we thought they were doing.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of, as they go in and look into all of this, just to come back to that, you wouldn't urge the tube drivers to drive - and you wouldn't urge them not to drive? You would leave it to them?

JOHN MONKS: I, I - I'm not leaving it to them. It's a matter for their unions to conduct the health and safety talks with London Underground and the same with every other group of workers who are in a situation which could be affected by the, this fire dispute. But it just shows how important it is, by the way, to get this dispute ended as soon as possible. And a bit more calmness today, people have had a good night's sleep now since Thursday/ Friday, and I think it's time now for some calm reasoning and maybe the recriminations to stop and the negotiations to start.

DAVID FROST: What about the calculations of Gordon Brown that we've read about, about how much this settlement would cost?

JOHN MONKS: Well I've seen that just this morning, 500 million or some, 450 million, it was 200 million on Friday. I've got absolutely no idea what the cost is, except that there is an initial transitional cost before the modernisation savings click in, the modernisation savings that Mike Fordham was talking about, and there is a need for some bridging funding from somebody - either from the local government employers or from the Government.

DAVID FROST: Or from the TUC perhaps?

JOHN MONKS: Well, well we haven't got that kind of money ... unfortunately.

DAVID FROST: And you said that this is a seminal dispute and our friend John Edmunds here says it is quite clear this is no longer a dispute between the Government and the Fire Brigades Union, it is a dispute between the Government and the trade union movement as a whole.

JOHN MONKS: Yeah.

DAVID FROST: Is it?

JOHN MONKS: Well it's a dispute between the Fire Brigades Union and the local authority employers and the Government on the one hand but it's got ramifications for the relationship between trade unions and the Government in general and the longer it's allowed to go on the more problematic those things will become. As I said yesterday, also, it's like family row, if things fester then they get worse and the immediate action this week is to ensure that this doesn't fester and that we don't forever replay what happened Thursday night to Friday morning.

DAVID FROST: And we, and we've got a situation here were suspicions grow on both sides and that there are people on the union side who say the Government was spoiling for a battle with the unions and there are people on the Government side who say the unions were spoiling for a situation where they could trigger off a strike that goes off into other areas and so on and has a real confrontation with the Government. Are you a conspiracy theorist on either side?

JOHN MONKS: I think the, there's been some in, or - not in Government, because I don't believe the Prime Minister's of this mind at all - but there's been some, certainly they've been talking about look this is your coal miners' strike and Andy Gilchrist is your Arthur Scargill, defeat him and you've done a significant political victory. I don't think that's, there's any sense in that, I don't think that's at the heart of the Government, I certainly hope it isn't because you're not going to get a settlement to the fire dispute that way. As, I think John Edmunds also said this morning, you can have a settlement or you can have a war. And it's a war that nobody will win, the Government will lose, the unions will lose, the TUC will lose. And we want to get out of that so people actually do benefit from a proper settlement.

DAVID FROST: And will you, in fact, consider the situation that happened - I don't know whether the Government will find this sufficiently reassuring - but what happened, the miners' strike, you mentioned the miners there, where the unions went in and said, the TUC went in and said that they would not use a generous offer to the miners in any other public dispute. That they would, that this would be, there would be no knock on effects.

JOHN MONKS: Yeah.

DAVID FROST: If the Government would accept something like that, would you be prepared to do that?

JOHN MONKS: Yeah, that was the '74 dispute -

DAVID FROST: That's right.

JOHN MONKS: - Edward Heath and the NUM.

DAVID FROST: That's right.

JOHN MONKS: No - we - I mean I don't think anybody's arguing that the, the Fire Brigades Union - including the Fire Brigades Union - as some kind of unique and special case. I think they're very special people, the job they do is a tremendous one for the community but there are other groups as well and I think to say that nurses and others would take less for fire staff to take more is not on the agenda. But I think an overall approach to public sector pay that actually does see big improvements in public services and decent terms and conditions for public sector workers, that's very much on the agenda.

DAVID FROST: John, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

INTERVIEW ENDS

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