Around 100 striking firefighters, bus drivers and postal workers came together at a rally last Saturday on the Central Fire Station picket line. It had been built by their CWU, FBU and Unite unions at four days notice.
They stood shoulder to shoulder to give each other support and share information on their disputes. They heard speeches of support from the UCU, GMB and NUJ unions.
A post worker from Lane Top said, “We feel much stronger when we are all together. We should do this more often.”
Firefighters at the Central station were delighted. “Management will be really annoyed seeing all these other unions bringing their banners,” one said.
For the firefighters it was the first of five days of 4pm–12pm strikes across South Yorkshire. The action is against the threatened imposition of a new shift pattern by sacking and re‑engaging over 600 firefighters (see page 14).
And for the bus drivers it was part of a series of strikes against management bullying and outrageous disciplinaries and dismissals.
Speakers from the FBU, CWU and Unite unions explained their strikes. Liz Lawrence, secretary of Yorks and Humberside UCU, which co-sponsored the rally, stressed the need for public sector unions to co-ordinate opposition.
A common thread runs through all of the disputes—a management that wants the right to bully and impose change at will, and a workforce that that is rock solid in refusing to allow this to happen .
The firefighters’ strike vote was over 85 percent for action, and the bus drivers rejected management proposals by more than ten to one.
One bus worker on the picket line explained, “Management may feel that because we accepted the pay deal across South Yorkshire, we will roll over on this. If that’s what they think then they are making a big mistake.”
Across the disputes, the question is how the unions can best take the action forward. There is a strong feeling that escalation will be needed if management does not back down.
Some bus drivers have begun to discuss all-out action.
And for the firefighters the question of a recall conference and a national response is clearly critical.
In the post there are calls for a mass meeting to maintain and increase members’ involvement during the coming strikes.
Meanwhile, the possibility of co-ordinated action with strikes on the same day would raise the confidence and involvement of all strikers. It would significantly raise the political temperature and the pressure on management.