Strikes have forced fire chiefs in South Yorkshire to climb down from their threat to sack 744 firefighters.
Management cracked a few days after boasting they were going to “lock out” members of the FBU firefighters’ union by docking pay for full shifts during their planned rolling strike action.
But the solid support and solidarity for the strikes forced the fire authority to pull back from imposing 12-hour day and night shifts – and its threat of mass sackings to force the changes through.
The fire authority has now agreed to talks at conciliation service Acas and dropped its threat to dismiss and then re-employ firefighters on new contracts. In return the union has called off all planned strikes.
The firefighters had held two 24-hour strikes and four days of 8-hour strikes against the plans.
During the strikes a rally outside Sheffield’s central fire station was attended by trade unionists from across the city.
There were delegations of post and bus workers, plus union banners from teachers, civil servants, journalists and Sheffield trades council.
Some 1,800 firefighters marched through Barnsley at the start of the dispute, and solidarity has poured in from across the country.
Around £600 was collected at the FBU’s reps training school last week, which was given to the strikers at the mass meeting they held to discuss calling off the action.
Firefighters currently work a 9-hour day shift. The 12-hour shift bosses were proposing would have made finding childcare impossible for many.
The union has now offered 10-hour day shifts and 14-hour nights as a starting point for the talks.
Many firefighters are cynical about what kind of deal will come out of Acas – and some say they should be ready to walk out again, backed by nationally-coordinated action.
As one South Yorkshire firefighter told Socialist Worker, “We believe that there is still another chapter to be written in this story.
“We find it hard to believe that the management can move from one extreme – threatening memos, threats of dismissal – to the other extreme of complete cooperation with the FBU’s terms in such a short period of time.”
Managers clearly thought they could get away with their attacks. But fire crews have shown the strength of the union.
The FBU is facing a mounting wave of attacks across the country. Fire bosses will think twice after South Yorkshire’s example of resistance, which became a focus for firefighters from across the country – but there is still a need for a national fight.
That’s why the county’s FBU branch reps have supported the call for a recall national conference.
In South Yorkshire, the strike action has pushed management back for now – but if the deal from Acas is bad, firefighters must be ready to walk out again.