Socialist Worker

Firefighters' sparks of resistance

by Tom Walker and Roddy Slorach
Issue No. 2189

Firefighters demonstrate in Romford, London on Thursday last week (Pic: Roddy Slorach)

Firefighters demonstrate in Romford, London on Thursday last week (Pic: Roddy Slorach)

Up to 500 firefighters from across London protested against cuts to night cover on Thursday of last week.

The angry FBU union members were demonstrating as Tory mayor Boris Johnson came to officially open the £5 million Harold Hill fire station in Romford.

It is the first fire station in London where beds have been banned, making it unsuitable for night time fire cover.

Firefighters need beds to cover 15-hour night shifts that can involve sudden bouts of strenuous life-saving work.

Removing them is the latest in a recent raft of attacks by London fire authority bosses.

They are trying to tear up London firefighters’ existing nine-hour days and 15-hour nights, and impose 12-hour shifts.

And they suspended senior FBU official Paul Embery after he stood up to Tory fire authority chair Brian Coleman at a meeting last week.

It comes after the union caught bosses secretly training a scab strike-breaking workforce last year.

“This is all about bullying, plain and simple,” said FBU official Steve Wight. “They tell us they want to talk but attack our reps and train up a scab workforce when we take official strike action.”

Ian Leahair, FBU executive member for London, said, “We want Coleman out of the authority. He has a dictatorship approach to running the brigade and it is going to put the public and firefighters at risk.”

Some 29 firefighters now work at Harold Hill, after being transferred from other stations.

This is part of a plan to move fire stations far away from towns and onto industrial estates – the fire authority plans to sell off prime city centre land.

Firefighters there will be forced to sleep on reclining chairs condemned as “unfit for purpose” by the Health and Safety Executive.

The chairs’ manufacturer says they should not be used for more than three hours at a time – nowhere near the length of a firefighter’s shift.

Firefighters reported injuries after a trial of the chairs at another fire station.

As the demonstration hotted up outside Harold Hill, Boris Johnson cut his interviews short and made a panicked exit by a back door.

After the protest FBU reps held an emergency meeting to discuss their strategy for industrial action.

The majority of London branches have passed a motion calling for action to defend the existing shift patterns. There are also calls for action over the recliners and the suspension of Paul Embery.

The bosses have thrown down the gauntlet. The best answer to that is to fight – now.

Private ‘rent-a-scab’ firefighters

Private security firm Reliance has been caught training a secret “rent-a-scab” force to do firefighters’ work if they strike.

It is sending security guards from Glasgow and Edinburgh on basic firefighting training courses in Lincolnshire.

Reliance is a contractor for AssetCo, the privateers who already own all of London’s fire engines.

AssetCo has a lucrative £12 million five-year deal with the London fire authority to provide “reserve” cover.

Soldiers were drafted in to break firefighters’ strikes in 2002 – but now so many are in Afghanistan that the private scabs have been brought in instead.

Bosses wreck Yorkshire deal

Talks in South Yorkshire have ended in a deal – only for bosses to go back on it straight away.

The FBU in South Yorkshire called off strikes last month to go to binding arbitration. It came out with an agreement of 11-hour days and 13-hour nights.

This was a retreat from the 12 hours the bosses wanted, but a lot worse than the 9-hour days and 15-hour nights the firefighters started with.

But now bosses have sent out yet another letter threatening to sack all 744 firefighters – the third time they have done this.

The letters say firefighters will be sacked unless they sign up to work interim shifts from May and then the bosses’ desired 12-hour shifts from August.

Yet again the bosses have proved that they can’t be trusted and that talks with them are a waste of time.

The FBU must put the strikes back on.

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Article information

Tue 16 Feb 2010, 18:13 GMT
Issue No. 2189
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