Socialist Worker

Firefighters' vuvuzelas blare out against fire danger

by Tom Walker
Issue No. 2208

Firefighters’ anger at the attacks last week (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Firefighters’ anger at the attacks last week (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

Up to 500 London firefighters held a noisy vuvuzela trumpet protest outside a fire authority bosses’ meeting on Thursday of last week.

The FBU union members say that the authority’s plans to change their shifts will put Londoners in danger and cause childcare chaos for firefighters.

And they were angry over the government’s plan for a two-year public sector pay freeze.

Mick Hickson, FBU borough rep for Lambeth, was on the protest with his three-year old daughter. He told Socialist Worker, “They want to sack us all and re-employ us on new contracts with 12-hour shifts.

“I wouldn’t get home until nine or ten at night so I wouldn’t see my daughter.”

Bernard McKernan, another Lambeth firefighter, said, “We have to defend 24-hour fire cover in London.

“The 12-hour shifts would take fire crews off night cover to save money.

“It would cut costs – but put London at risk.”

Firefighters came from across the capital to attend the rally, with many bringing union banners from their fire stations.

Keith Cousins, FBU branch rep in Acton, said, “The ‘pay freeze’ really adds up to a pay cut. They want more for less. We’re here to show them that they won’t get it.”

Tory fire authority boss Brian Coleman has become a hate figure. Some firefighters had placards and T-shirts with slogans like “Brian Coleman’s Tories – still the nasty party” and “Coleman doesn’t cut the mustard”.

The firefighters blew the vuvuzelas outside the building where the authority was meeting.

The rally heard solidarity speeches from Steve Sparks of the Unison union at London fire headquarters and Simon Hester, a Prospect union rep at the Health and Safety Executive.

The FBU executive member for London, Ian Leahair, was clear about the need for the union to fight the shift proposals.

“Look at the hypocrisy of the little Tory bully in there,” he said. “They say we’re all in it together but he awarded himself a 9 percent pay rise today.

“If it’s a fight he wants, that’s what he’ll get.”

Darren Johnson, a Green Party member of the fire authority, came out to speak to the rally.

To cheers, he told them he was one of only two members to vote against the shift changes.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, closed the rally. He said, “We’re told we’re facing 25 percent cuts in the public sector. This is the public sector right here – people who provide an essential service.

“The pay freeze and VAT increase will cost firefighters £1,000 a year.

“Yet over the past five years chief fire officers have seen their pay increase by an average of 27 percent.

“This service is based on sticking together – and if necessary we’ll stick together on the picket line as well.”

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Tue 29 Jun 2010, 18:49 BST
Issue No. 2208
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