The nationwide strike of firemen, now 53 days old, is limping to an end with an overwhelming victory for the government's policy of pay restraint.
Sometime next week, the 32,000 fire fighters are expected to call off their walkout without gaining a penny more than they were offered seven weeks ago.
Prime Minister James Callaghan's Labor government is jubilant over the result. Callaghan has cooly demonstratedvhe would risk catastrophe to hold wage increases at 10 per cent. This is a lesson that will not be lost on workers in far bigger nationalized industries like coal, power and the railroads.
As a result, there is now every propect that Britain will bring its inflation below 10 per cent this year for the first time since 1973. The rising pound will also contribute to this result, making cheaper all the food and raw materials Britain imports.
Officials of the Fire Brigades Union and the government are now in the last stages of marathon talks aimed at giving the firemen big increases a year from now. But the government first offered a gain this year of $1250 which is 10 per cent, and that is what the firemen are likely to end up with when they go back.
TO sweeten the pill, starting next November, the fire fighters' work will be cut from 48 to 42 hours and their pay will be tied to the average worker's rate. This in now about $25 more than the fireman's current $125 and that gap produced the unprecedented strike.
The union leaders have accepted this formula, but a conference of delegates must approve it before the strike can end.
Tonight government officials reported that the union's executive board had voted 12-4 in favor of a conference. It is likely to be held next week.
Despite the enormous risk of living without professional fire fighters, Britain has escaped so far without any major disaster. Hastily trained soldiers using obsolete equipment and coached by non-striking fire officers have put out many blazes here with astonishing success.
In the worst tragedy since the strike began, five persons were killed in a house fire in London today. As they have frequently, striking firemen left picket lines to assist troops battling the fierce blaze.
For the first 52 days of the strike, there were about the same number of deaths and fires as is usual in the winter. The total was 166 persons dead and 31,500 fires. For November and December in the three previous years, there were an average of 3 deaths and 600 fires daily - or 156 deaths and 31,200 fires over a 52-day period.
The damage, however, has been far greater.This was because the troops were not professional and because they were compelled to wait until police determined an alarm was not false before responding to a fire.
Insurance officials estimate that the damage in November, a month with only two strike weeks, was $81 million - more than twice the $35 million monthly average in 1977.
Looking back political observers agree that only Callaghan couldvhave used troops to break a strike and still maintain his lines unimpaired with the trade union movement. The performance here has contributed powerfully to opinion polls that show Callaghan has brought Labor even with the opposition Consdervvatives.