- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

LONDON (AP) The British government threatened yesterday to impose a settlement on striking firefighters, underlining Prime Minister Tony Blair's resolve to resist labor militancy despite his party's historic ties with unions.
The announcement was made as firefighters started a 48-hour walkout, their fourth strike in three months in a fight with local governments about pay and working practices.
Since coming to power in 1997 with the "new" Labor Party, Mr. Blair has been determined to show that his government would not be subject to the huge public-sector strikes that drove the last Labor government out of office in 1979.
Back then, in what became known as the "Winter of Discontent," strikes left garbage piled in the streets and corpses unburied, helping topple the government of James Callaghan and elect Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The Labor Party's change of strategy under Mr. Blair has sparked resentment from the unions.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced in the House of Commons that he would introduce legislation to give the national government power to dictate firefighters' pay and working conditions.
"These powers will hopefully bring a new and much-needed sense of reality into future negotiations," Mr. Prescott said, adding that it would take a few weeks to enact the legislation.
Firefighters accused the government of thwarting any possibility of a negotiated deal.
"It is quite clear to us that the government has never been prepared to see a negotiated settlement to this matter," Andy Gilchrist, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, told the British Broadcasting Corp.
The union had sought a 40 percent pay raise for Britain's 55,000 firefighters. Local governments are offering an 11 percent raise in return for changes in working

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