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EDITIONS
Monday, 17 February, 2003, 10:14 GMT
Prescott's fire plans anger unions
Firefighters meet Andy Gilchrist (right)
The FBU accuse John Prescott of bully boy tactics
Trade union leaders are to hold talks about the firefighters' dispute after the government announced plans to impose a pay deal.

Senior officials have warned new legislation outlined by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was a declaration of war on public sector workers and would cause "civil war" within the Labour movement.

Unless Labour MPs stop this madness there will be civil war in the Labour movement

Paul Kenny
GMB candidate

As the latest round of 48-hour fire strikes entered its second day, firefighters leaders accused the government of adopting "bullying" tactics.

The union leaders' group, set up by the TUC, has called a special meeting to discuss how to respond to Mr Prescott's plans to introduce new legislation within weeks to pave the way for an imposed settlement.

The deputy prime minister told MPs he did not believe the Fire Brigades Union was serious about reaching a negotiated settlement.

Some Labour MPs believe the government is planning to ban firefighters from taking industrial action.

Tuesday and Wednesday's walk-out is due to be followed by another 48-hour strike on Saturday.

Soldier fight a fire
The military are providing cover during the strikes
Paul Kenny, a candidate in the election for General Secretary of the GMB union, gave the clearest warning of the implications of Mr Prescott's hard line stance.

"Unless Labour MPs stop this madness there will be civil war in the Labour movement.

"This is equivalent to declaring war on public service workers."

General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, Bill Morris, accused the government of "drumming up obsolete laws" in order to appease the CBI.

But he played down suggestions the unions would withdraw cash from the Labour party in protest.

'Bully tactics'

Mr Morris told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We make a qualitative distinction between our party and our government.

"The Labour party has been around for over 100 years but this government has only been in office for six or so years."

Labour MP John McDonnell, chairman of a group of Labour MPs set up to support the firefighters, said the government was preparing to ban the FBU from going on strike.

"This development has the gravest possible implications for the whole Labour and trade union movement and is a fundamental threat to basic trade union rights," he added.

A Green Goddess
The Army has provided fire cover
FBU General Secretary Andy Gilchrist accused the government of resorting to "bullying tactics" to break the strike saying the announcement as a "desperate act by desperate people".

Talks between the union and local government employers at the conciliation service Acas broke down last week.

Mr Prescott is preparing to reactivate the Fire Services Act of 1947, repealed in 1959, which will allow the government to specify pay, terms and conditions.

But he told MPs it would take a few weeks to reactivate the act.

Tough talk

He said the dispute had cost the taxpayer more than 70m that would have to be taken from budgets designed to help the most vulnerable in society.

Edward Davey, who shadows Mr Prescott's office for the Liberal Democrats, asked if teachers and health workers would also face imposed pay settlements.

The Conservatives want a ban on firefighter strikes and David Davis, the shadow deputy prime minister, told BBC News Mr Prescott was "talking tough but not acting tough".

The local authority employers said they hoped the announcement would "concentrate minds at the FBU executive".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"This is meant to be a wake-up call"
Ruth Winters, president of the FBU
"We've suspended numerous strikes to go back to the negotiating table"
Bill Morris, Leader of the T&GW union
"(The dispute) has got to be settled in the boardroom not the courtroom"
 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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