Socialist Worker

Sparks of resistance to fly across London

by Yusuf Timms, FBU borough secretary, Kensington and Chelsea (pc)
Issue No. 2216

London firefighters were set to start a ballot for industrial action this Friday, and could soon be voting on full strike action.

This is the latest stage in a bitter dispute.

Two weeks ago London fire brigade bosses, at the behest of their Tory paymasters on the fire authority, started a process that could lead to the sacking of all London firefighters.

This aggressive move is aimed at forcing through new contracts for the 6,000 firefighters—with a worse shift pattern that would put safety at risk.

In response, the London regional committee of the firefighters’ FBU union met last Friday and unanimously voted to ballot for industrial action.

A ballot for action short of a strike will end on 17 September. The action could begin on 24 September.

If bosses refuse to stop the sacking process at a fire authority meeting on 6 September, the union will give notice of a ballot for strikes.

This could see London firefighters out on strike by the first week of November.

This is an energetic strategy that shows a clear determination to answer our bully-boy managers blow for blow.

Spurred on by the government’s cuts agenda, brigade bosses see an opportunity to push through attacks that they have been planning for years.

London firefighters currently work a nine-hour day and a 15-hour night shift, with levels of fire cover remaining the same 24 hours a day.

Brigade bosses want to change this to two equal 12-hour shifts. This would mean fire stations closing, fire engines removed from night-time cover, and cuts in front-line staff.

Bosses also want to take the opportunity to push through a whole number of attacks on conditions of service.

These are aimed at getting more productivity for less money—and weakening the power of the union.

A management document leaked to the FBU confirmed all this months ago.

Last year firefighters in South Yorkshire were forced to take strike action in the same circumstances.

Though they were successful in resisting new contracts, they were forced into a compromise that saw shift changes introduced.

One of the key lessons from those strikes was the need to bolster local action with a national campaign by the union.

A 1,800-strong demonstration was held, and many firefighters from around the country took up collections and attended the picket lines—but the national union resisted demands to recall the annual conference.

It is vital that firefighters in London—and in South Wales, where managers are trying to push through similar changes—raise the question of national solidarity action.

We must push for the union to recall conference—with a view to organising national strike action in the event that any firefighter is sacked.

It is clear that the government’s intentions are to make working people pay for the bankers’ economic crisis.

That’s why the FBU in London, together with many other unions, is backing the Right to Work ­demonstration outside the Tory party conference on

3 October.

As Socialist Worker went to press, some London firefighters were starting unofficial industrial action, instead of waiting for the ballot to start.

Firefighters in at least four stations were “withdrawing goodwill”.

This means firefighters refusing to do overtime or “act up” for more senior staff, and doing duties by the book.

A letter calling for the unofficial action to be spread is circulating among the rank‑and-file, and seems to be having an impact.

It asks all London firefighters to begin taking action at 9am this Wednesday.

Unofficial action like this shows that the anger is there among London firefighters.

It should be encouraged and supported—it will put the bosses on the back foot.

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Article information

Tue 24 Aug 2010, 17:30 BST
Issue No. 2216
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