Over 800 firefighters packed into an electric FBU union rally in London last night (Tuesday) on the eve of the start of their ballot for industrial action.
Every one of London’s 6,000 firefighters is being threatened with the sack by bosses who want to force through new contracts with worse shifts and attacks on terms and conditions.
But the bosses, and the government, should be worried—because this group of workers have no intention of taking the attacks lying down.
Some have already started unofficial action by “withdrawing goodwill”: refusing to do some tasks that fall outside their contracts.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack got a standing ovation as he announced an escalating programme of action on top of the action short of a strike already planned.
“There is only one way to challenge them and that is with strike action,” he said.
“If you don’t fight they will walk all over you. We need to be side by side, shoulder to shoulder—if needs be on the picket line.”
There will be a mass demonstration at the fire authority meeting in London on Thursday 16 September—and then a strike ballot if the bosses at that meeting do not withdraw their sacking threat.
“Every time we have come out on the picket line, we have had overwhelming support from the public—and it will be the same this time,” Matt Wrack added.
“No one can sit back: everyone here has to get organised, not just rely on reps and the regional council. We have to reject any divisions and be united to win.”
Ian Leahair, FBU executive council member for London, pointed out how young many of the firefighters at the meeting were.
“Some people say that the young people aren’t interested in fighting back—but you here today are living proof that a new generation of firefighters want to protect and save jobs and the service,” he said.
He also pointed out the dangers to public safety and workers’ safety in what the bosses are doing.
“The government are planning 25 to 40 percent cuts in the public sector. Can you even imagine what that will mean in your stations, on your shifts?
“It will mean stations closed at night and short staffing on all shifts.
“Every day we work above our contracts—on overtime, acting up, and we are not paid accordingly.
“If there isn’t a fight this year, there won’t be one next year. So now is the time. They’ve used their ace card too soon—to threaten to sack everyone.
“We will ballot for strike if they do not take the threat of 12-hour shifts off the table.”
The meeting was also addressed by left wing Labour MP John McDonnell, who had just come from an RMT union meeting nearby.
He drew the links between workers needing to fight against the cuts, and across the unions.
“Ordinary working people are being made to pay for a crisis they did not create,” he said.
“Our money—working people’s money—was used to bail out the banks, and now the government is coming back for more.”
“We have to come out and say that we will not pay.”
The union is encouraging other FBU members from across the country to join the protest at London Fire Brigade headquarters on Thursday 16 September.
The ballot for action short of a strike begins this Friday and ends on 17 September. The strike ballot will begin on 16 September if the sacking threat is not withdrawn before then.