UNOFFICIAL ACTION was spreading through Britain's 58 fire brigades as Socialist Worker went to press.
In station after station firefighters were starting to refuse all work except 999 emergency calls.
The action began barely hours after unofficial strikes in the post office won a stunning victory, and just after an equally stunning insult from fire authority employers. 'We had been promised by the employers that, under the deal that ended our pay campaign earlier this year, we would get a 7 percent increase from this November,' says Neale Williams from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in London. 'Now they've said we will only get half that-3.5 percent-with the rest next year. Rank and file firefighters and control staff were bitterly unhappy with the deal in any case. Our union leaders drove it through and it means selling our conditions. Now we are being told we won't even get the 7 percent.'
The action began in Norfolk, spread to Wiltshire, parts of Scotland, Yorkshire and Humberside, and then other areas.
Justin Thomas from Wiltshire says, 'The action here is membership led. Whether you had come to accept losing the conditions or not, everyone is furious over the betrayal on the 7 percent.
'People are proud that a small, rural brigade kicked off the action.' The anger is not only over the employers reneging on the 7 percent. It is also over the conditions FBU leaders are preparing to sell as part of talks bound up with the deal. 'Joining the unofficial action now is crucial to stopping any erosion of our conditions as well as forcing the employers to pay us what they said they would,' says Neale Williams. 'Our union leaders see the action as a bargaining chip with the employers. But we've got to use this space everywhere to involve people in the unofficial action.
'If the employers back down over pay, we will be in a stronger position to fight over conditions. The post workers have shown what can be achieved. We've got a chance to overcome at least some of the damage our national leaders did when they called off our official strikes and threw away our pay campaign.'
Feeling is so strong some firefighters in some areas have talked about unofficial strike action.
There's an even stronger mood to take action if anyone is disciplined. Throwing back the employers over pay and conditions means deepening and hardening the unofficial action.
The government stands behind the employers and is this week passing a bill which will limit firefighters' right to strike. Everyone sickened by the way the government has stuck the boot into the firefighters should get behind these workers.