Socialist Worker

Sheffield's glorious autumn of discontent

Ben Morris reports on how post, fire and bus strikes are coming together to shake a city

Issue No. 2175

Firefighters’ strikes in Sheffield are part of a wave of action in the city

Firefighters’ strikes in Sheffield are part of a wave of action in the city

“Three Strikes And We’re Out” was the front page headline of the daily Sheffield Star newspaper on Thursday of last week.

There were photos of picketing firefighters, postal workers and grounded buses next to the headline.

The convergence of the strikes on First buses, Royal Mail and by South Yorkshire firefighters has created an atmosphere of resistance in the city.

The Star even ran a poll on whether Sheffield is facing a “winter of discontent”.

Striking workers articulate the bitterness that millions of others across Britain feel.

A seething anger at the day-to-day treatment being meted out by managers is common to all the picket lines.

Workers mention the word “bullying” again and again and pickets almost tremble with pent-up rage as they relate some of the horror stories.

One bus driver received a six-month warning for taking a day off after his mother died.

Another driver who suffered a whiplash injury in an accident was told to take two days off by the hospital. He then got a final written warning for taking one day off after the company doctor pronounced him well.


Postal workers under pressure to complete their rounds in impossible times report being spied on by managers

An FBU firefighters’ union official complained that the number of disciplinaries has soared to three every week.

A local FBU survey has found that 97 percent of firefighters reported having been bullied.

At the central fire station, striker Del commented angrily that his partner, a childcare assistant for the council, was set to lose £4,000 a year because of the council’s regrading review.

This is the same issue that Leeds bin workers are fighting.

Sheffield council workers in the Unison and GMB unions are holding indicative ballots over these proposals.

One firefighter explained that “99 percent of people love the job itself, but it’s the way we’re being treated.

“People used to fight to be able to stay on. Now they want to retire as soon as possible.”

A sign of management’s changed attitude is that pickets are locked out of the stations during strikes, meaning they are unable to use any of the facilities.

Any team spirit that once existed is being replaced by “them” versus “us”.

Bus drivers in Sheffield are balloting with the rest of South Yorkshire on Thursday over a marginally improved pay offer.

But Sheffield bus drivers are also striking separately against management’s disciplinary system.

The company’s latest proposals to resolve this were rejected by more than ten to one because of its failure to move on the issue of disciplinaries.

Drivers feel they have no choice but to take action.

As one rep put it, “I want people to come to work in the morning relaxed, knowing they will have a job when they go home.

Now no one feels safe, and the stress is just too much.”

All of this means that there is a depth of anger on the picket lines.

There is nothing routine about these disputes. It feels as if the ground is rumbling.

Trade unionists and students showed solidarity with all the strikes by visiting their picket lines.

The strikes are set to continue this week with everyone out on Saturday.

Many activists are arguing to bring these fights together in a rally or demonstration in the city centre.

This could raise the strikers’ morale and involvement in the action.

It would also serve notice on the government and employers that when we are all under attack then we will fight back together.

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Article information

Tue 27 Oct 2009, 18:37 GMT
Issue No. 2175
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