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 Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 16:48 GMT
Unions urge Prescott fire rethink
Firefighters meet Andy Gilchrist (right)
The FBU accuse John Prescott of bully boy tactics
The TUC is asking the government for urgent talks in the wake of its threat to impose a pay rise on striking firefighters.

The move comes amid "strong concern" over the increasingly acrimonious dispute and follows a special meeting of top union leaders in London.

There is very deep concern over these proposals

Brendan Barber
TUC chief-elect
TUC general secretary elect, Brendan Barber, said union leaders would meet the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in the next few days to see if they could help to restart stalled negotiations.

"We will also be seeking an urgent meeting with the deputy prime minister about his announcement about new legal provisions giving the government the power to impose pay and conditions," he said.

"There is very deep concern over these proposals.

"It is absolutely clear that imposition cannot provide any basis for resolving this dispute - that will only be achieved through proper negotiations."

Not serious

Mr Barber's call for "cool heads rather than hot words" came as the latest 48 hour fire strike entered its second day.

Unison's Dave Prentis urged the government to "stop raising the temperature" of the dispute.

"Their carping from the sidelines, interfering and making threats will only prolong the dispute," he said.

But the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith said the possible imposition of an injunction banning strikes was "closely under review".

"It depends on the circumstances at the time, which I am watching with considerable interest and have the benefit of Mr Prescott's views as to what is happening on the ground," he told the BBC.

FBU boss Andy Gilchrist is asking TUC general secretary John Monks for the full Trade Unions' Council to be convened for talks on the government's latest move.

Soldier fight a fire
The military are providing cover during the strikes
Transport and General Workers Union boss Bill Morris has accused the government of "drumming up obsolete laws" to appease bosses instead of its union allies.

On Wednesday, Mr Prescott denied he was trying to make firefighters accept a settlement.

He told MPs: "The difficulty comes if both parties refuse to negotiate.

"What I am facing is deadlock and I have to find some kind of solution that gets them back to the negotiating table."

Civil war

John McDonnell MP, chairman of a group of Labour members supporting the firefighters, said: "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
The current walk-out is due to be followed by another 48-hour strike on Saturday.

Some senior union figures, such as Paul Kenny, a candidate to become the GMB's leader later this year, have suggested unions could withdraw funding for Labour in protest.

Such suggestions were, however, played down by Mr Prentis and Mr Morris.

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."

'Bully tactics'

Mr Gilchrist accused the government of resorting to "bullying tactics" to break the strike saying the announcement was 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.

Rescue in Cornwall

Across the UK Tuesday proved a quiet night when it came to fires.

The army had to rescue two people from a house in Haverfordwest, Wales. They were found unconscious in a smoke-filled house and taken to hospital.

Fire crews in Camborne, West Cornwall, broke their strike overnight to rescue a mother and three young children from a blaze at a block of flats.

In another development, police have launched a murder inquiry after an elderly woman's body was found by army firefighters attending a house fire in Northampton.

  The BBC's George Eykyn
"It's difficult to see how serious talks could resume before next week"
  Phil Goalby from the FBU
"He's taking the Fire Service back to 1947"
  Bill Morris, Leader of the T&GW union
"(The dispute) has got to be settled in the boardroom not the courtroom"
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29 Jan 03 | Scotland
28 Jan 03 | UK

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