FBU union leader Matt Wrack updates firefighters outside talks in London on Wednesday (Picture: FBU)

Firefighters’ union leaders have held back from calling strikes after bosses made a new, below-inflation pay offer late on Wednesday night.

Leaders of the FBU union had warned that they could call strikes on Thursday if bosses didn’t improve a 5 percent pay increase for this financial year. After a long day of talks on Wednesday, bosses offered only a slight improvement of 7 percent backdated to July last year and 5 percent from July this year.

With inflation at just over 13 percent, that’s a real-terms pay cut for two years running. But the union’s executive council (EC) agreed to put it to a members’ vote.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack admitted to a BBC interview on Thursday morning, “It is a below inflation pay rise. I don’t think people will be jumping for joy. People have had 12 years of attacks on their pay. They won’t be over the moon.”

Wrack wouldn’t say what he thought of the offer. And he said the EC was set to meet on Thursday to discuss it—indicating the union leadership hadn’t agreed on whether to back it.

But, in an FBU press release, Wrack said the offer was “testament to the power of collective action through the Fire Brigades Union.” He added, “We have achieved this increase because of the massive vote in favour of strikes by firefighters and control staff across the country.”

But it also shows that actually striking could win much more. Delegations of FBU activists gathered outside the talks in central London on Wednesday.

One report of the day, circulating on WhatsApp, said that in the afternoon Wrack told them, “The employers are seriously concerned and want to avoid a strike. This is probably in my experience the most serious I’ve seen employers’ negotiation with the FBU.”

FBU leaders might hope that a members’ vote to reject the latest offer could push bosses to offer more in talks. But it also risks sending the message that a real-terms pay cut is good enough to consider settling for.

And, unless the vote happens quickly, it risks missing the opportunity to join teachers and civil servants in a united strike on 15 March. Striking immediately—and striking together—is the best way to put pressure on the bosses and win a proper pay rise.

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