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FIRE DISPUTE: FIREFIGHTERS READY TO RESUME STRIKE

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Firefighters are set to launch a new wave of strikes as early as this week in their pay dispute with local authorit...
Firefighters are set to launch a new wave of strikes as early as this week in their pay dispute with local authority employers, according to The Sunday Times (p30).

Delegates from branches of the Fire Brigades Union meet in Brighton tomorrow to decide on the employers' 16 per cent offer. They originally asked for a 40 per cent pay rise. The FBU executive expects the offer to be rejected for the second time even though it has been recommended by the executive. There are also indications that there will be calls for an indefinite strike from 22 April, FBU sources said at the weekend.

The resumption of industrial action would be a blow to Labour as attention returns to the domestic agenda ahead of what is expected to be a difficult battle at the local elections on 1 May. A study for the newspaper by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, of the LGC Elections Centre at Plymouth University, says Labour is in danger of coming third behind the Tories and Liberal Democrats.

The FBU agreed to put industrial action on hold because of the war against Iraq, but that is now considered to be over by the FBU executive. With the prospect of strikes, military personnel will be forced to provide cover, further stretching the armed services. Deputy prime minister John Prescott has threatened to use legal powers to impose a settlement. That could cause a backlash from Labour supporters, many of whom have shown their disaffection over Iraq by refusing to canvass for the party in the local campaigns.

After analysing by-election results this year, Rallings and Thrasher say the number of gains the Tories expect has increased. They estimate the Conservatives will make net gains of 150-200 seats rather than the 50-100 estimated last month. The Conservative Party insists it expects to gain only about 30 seats.

The Plymouth analysis predicts that Labour will obtain 29 per cent of the vote, seven percentage points behind the Tories at 36 per cent. The Liberal Democrats are expected to score the same as Labour. Under t his projection, Labour would lose up to 500 seats while the Liberal Democrats could gain 300.

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