Are the Fire Brigade abusing their power?

David Allen Green, on his Staggers blog, recently penned two very provocative posts on the decision by the Fire Brigade Union to hold a strike on bonfire night.

The first one was so “controversial” in fact, that a second one was necessary in order to level with dissenters.

The problem with the first one – as Green tried to counter in his second – was that it dealt with abuse of power, while apparently only implying this could apply to the bonfire night strike. As Kate, commenting on the second article, pointed out “This article still doesn’t *quite* tell us what David Allen Green’s opinion is of the dispute in question. The implication of the first piece was squarely condemnatory of the FBU”.

It appears like Green has covered his back merely by asking whether this could be an abuse of power, but has qualified no concrete answer. However, given his dissatisfaction at the charge of commenters saying the FBUs action did not constitute an abuse, it is close to obvious which side he is on – that is, of course, until the next post.

For me, the first post pontificated on power that would otherwise be absent if striking was not an option. By that I mean the power to subvert the abuse of power levelled by management. Indeed striking is historically the only power – per se – workers have to bargain their bosses with; so if this strike is an abuse of power, this would render the fire brigade powerless – exactly how management would prefer it.

But I think Green would accept this too; striking is a demonstration of power, the abuse is the day on which the strike is taking place.

Green received this answer when contacting the FBU:

A range of dates have been chosen – not just Bonfire Night. We do not have the luxury of time. The clock is ticking on our members’ contracts. Firefighters in London will be sacked from 26 November. We are fighting to defend our jobs and our service, and we have just four weeks to succeed.

Immediately the argument is not that striking is an abuse of power, but that the day is a bad idea.

Green is right to be slightly confused about the FBUs agreement in South Yorkshire of 11/13 (11-hour day shifts; 13 hour night shifts) but opposition to the same in London. But the point is no longer on par with calling the strike action an abuse.

Indeed the second article – far more detailed, and better sourced than the first – is really a step away from the contention that the strike action is abuse. It even concludes with this admission: “it is rather hard to see which side is abusing their power more.”

I am a fan of Green’s work in general, but such ambiguity is symptomatic both of a fence-sitting liberal and someone keen not to make too explicit an assertion – neither of which I’m accusing Green of being, simply implying as much.

Interestingly, Iain Dale – hardly a paid up member of the awkward squad – on speaking to some striking firemen yesterday, noted that “they were all on strike because of the Section 188 notice letters rather than the proposed change in shift patterns”.

With regards to Green’s conversation with the FBU, what we must ask is that the FBUs position be concrete – is the dispute based upon the shift pattern changes and Section 188 in equal measure? And why is 11/13 appropriate for South Yorkshire and not London? But on Section 188 – this is an abuse of power that needs challenging in the only effective way workers can.

I’m no fence-sitter; which side is absuing their power more? The management side.

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