- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

LONDON Britain announced plans yesterday to deploy 19,000 troops in the face of growing terrorist threats after firefighters refused to postpone a nationwide strike starting tomorrow.
"This strike certainly endangers British citizens," Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon, who ordered the soldiers to man fire stations and other emergency services, told the British Broadcasting Corp.
"Many who are now to act as firefighters should have been training for the defense of the world against rogue states like Iraq and against al Qaeda," he said.
The Firemen's Union walked out of talks with the government yesterday, labeling an 11 percent raise over two years as "derisory." The deal was offered to induce more modern practices and extra duties, and was far higher than for any other sector of government employees.
The nationwide firefighter's strike comes at a time when the government is issuing unprecedented warnings of attacks by terrorists through truck bombs being driven onto cross-channel ferries.
Britain has also revealed plans to send thousands more troops to the Persian Gulf within the next three weeks to bolster war preparations there.
A spokesman quoted Prime Minister Tony Blair as describing the firefighter's strike plan as "wrong, unjustified and unnecessary." He also warned that the strike "has the potential to be very damaging" to the country's security and well-being.
Mr. Blair was widely expected to face the unions down rather than accede to costly pay settlements that could derail his economic policy, analysts said.
The strike by 50,000 firefighters only the second time that firefighters would go on national strike presents the biggest industrial challenge to the Blair administration since it was swept to power two elections ago.
With a plethora of other state employees, such as mail carriers and teachers, also engaged in or considering industrial action, Britons are recalling the famous "Winter of Discontent," a series of strikes by public service workers in 1978 and 1979, which brought down a previous Labor government.
The strike would last two days. However, further strikes, each lasting eight days, would follow Nov. 22 and Dec. 4 and Dec. 16 unless the increasingly bitter dispute is settled.
Other workers, including those with the London Underground, could refuse to work if they believe their safety is at risk.
Unions have said they will support members taking action, which could spark disputes across British industry.
On Monday security guards and independently managed firefighters at the country's major airports announced a series of one-day strikes starting Nov. 28, also over pay. That raised the specter of travel chaos in the weeks around Christmas.


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