Labour Government was forced to summon local authority employers and union leaders for discussions and when it ended, there was an audible sigh of relief.
"The Firefighters' decision yesterday to call off their long-running dispute marks a signal victory for ministers. The government has secured the guts of what it wanted: changes in working practices tied to a one-off bumper pay increase" (Financial Times 13/6/03) http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/2003/305/index.htmlid=pp4.htm
The ten-month long dispute was rather an unpleasant shock to the complacency of the nation, and resulted in a certain weariness of fire-fighters too and some of them looked forward to a honourable solution. After all, fire-fighters are a conscientious, duty-bound clan and could not go on agitating beyond a certain point. In spite of that, when the solution took place and industrial action was withdrawn, there were allegations of 'sell out' against union leaders, especially Andy Gilchrist, but eventually things cooled down. Compared to the unruly 13 week dispute of 1997, which ran into fisticuffs in the end, this was a better conducted industrial action, though not in a single delegate spoke in favour of leadership, and anger took a long time to heal. Media opined that FBU leaders could not win against the firm determination of the labour cabinet. Another interpretation of the settlement implied that any future industrial action would be centred at local level and not at national level. At one stage, fire fighters were defending their already existing rights of overtime, staffing levels and 'the sitting of fire stations themselves.'
The issue of solidarity had not been very far away from all these and was effectively raised many times. "The London tube workers during the first two-day strike refused to work in their hundreds because of the safety issue. When they were threatened with disciplinary action if they did the same thing again, the RMT were too slow to back their members up." http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/2003/305/index.htmlid=pp4.htm
It shaped up as a test to left union leaders, who could not rise to the occasion. Even though union leaders thought this was the best possible settlement, media thought that strings were tightly attached to pay and conditions. For example: the pay raise was 16%, but anything above 4% was dependent on cuts and working condition changes and obviously is conditional, whereas the second raise of average 7% was connected with the new pay structure and lacks certainty. No doubt, they come under 'professional and technical classification'; but this again is a hazy matter. It is unclear how this settlement will affect the senior grade workers.
Integrated Risk Management (IRMP) will enable the fire authorities to decide on crewing levels arbitrarily and this would be out of unions' negotiating powers and the overtime issue could be prearranged. Many of the terms of pay and conditions were unclear at the time of agreement. One of the fire-fighters reacted to the settlement by saying, it was a case of "Lions being led by Donkeys". It was also cursed as the "blueprint of for industrial unrest over the next five year." But it averted continuation of ugly strike. In the meantime, as all parties were in favour of modernisation, first modernised fire station was being readied in Hammersmith with