The threat of eight days of strike action by South Yorkshire firefighters has forced their bosses into talks.
They have dropped plans for mass sackings—but are still determined to implement changes to shift patterns.
Firefighters are frustrated that the strikes were called off. “We can’t threaten strikes just so employers talk to us—we must strike to win,” said one FBU official.
South Yorkshire had an autumn of solid strikes, pushing the employer onto the back foot.
So why has the FBU leadership spent the winter pleading for talks?
Officials in the area have told us that rank and file membership want hard-hitting action. They wanted to win.
Instead the dispute has been channelled into National Joint Secretaries arbitration between the bosses and FBU officials.
But negotiations and talks are not enough.
Other areas have faced shift pattern changes and there have been strikes to defend them. The difference is that in South Yorkshire bosses have threatened to sack the entire FBU membership.
The local strikes have been turned into a national campaign. It became a focus for the entire FBU.
The mood was strong—1,800 firefighters, some from Northern Ireland and Cornwall, came to the rally and lobby of the fire authority bosses in October.
Sections of the rank and file and senior officials have argued for the recall of the FBU national conference.
For decades FBU policy has been that one redundancy in the fire service would mean immediate national strike action. A recall conference could galvanise activists.
The shifts we work were fought for and won in the 1970s and are not ours to relinquish—they belong to the firefighters of the future.
The South Yorkshire firefighters were right to stand firm.
The danger now is that talks, even if they succeed, will mean a “compromise” position that sacrifices shift patterns.
We can’t take the pressure off. If the employers refuse to make real concessions, or impose changes, then the strikes have to be put back on.
Other brigades must follow their example and ballot for strikes to save shift patterns. And if one member is sacked or made redundant there should be a national strike.