Socialist Worker

Firefighters in a battle for us all

by Tom Walker
Issue No. 2219

Some 500 London firefighters on a noisy protest outside a fire authority bosses’ meeting in June (Pic: Smallman )

Some 500 London firefighters on a noisy protest outside a fire authority bosses’ meeting in June (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Firefighters from across Britain were set to descend on the capital on Thursday of this week with a simple message: London’s battle is everyone’s battle.

The firefighters are on the frontline of fighting the Tories.

Crazed Tory fire authority chair Brian Coleman is pushing through attacks on them—backed up by Tory mayor Boris Johnson, and driven by the Tory cuts agenda.

London FBU union members are balloting over bosses starting the process of mass sackings to force through worse shifts (see 'The issues', below).

They are fighting for the future of essential public services—and to protect safe fire cover for everyone in London.

“It’s not just an argument over shifts—it’s about public safety,” says London’s FBU executive council member Ian Leahair.

“Earlier this year we released a leaked document that shows they [the bosses] intend to shut down ten local fire stations, and remove them from night cover.”


The complex shift change plan will ultimately mean firefighters can be easily swapped off night shifts and onto days—saving the bosses piles of cash, but slashing night time fire cover.

Fires are more deadly at night as people are asleep and so blazes often go unnoticed for longer.

If a fire station is closed, then fire engines would have to travel over from neighbouring areas—costing potentially vital minutes.

And firefighters will end up working incredibly long shifts, wrecking their personal lives.

Ian Leahair points out that firefighters can hardly take breaks on their way to an emergency—and that their shifts can’t always end when they’re supposed to.

“We can’t go on a fire and say ‘put yourself out so I can go home’,” says Leahair. “We have to stay until that job is finished.

“That effectively means a 12 hour shift for firefighters can be in excess of 15 hours.”

London firefighters’ mood is hardening. They will get a big boost from the solidarity of the FBU delegations from across Britain on their march.

“If it comes to it, I believe you will see one of the biggest turnouts in a strike ballot you’ve ever seen, because firefighters will not stand by and let this happen,” says Leahair.

He urged other workers to join the firefighters’ mass march on the fire authority. “Come and join us,” he said. “I urge you to support us.”

Ian Leahair was speaking at London Fightback, a meeting organised by the Right to Work campaign. See page 5

The issues

  • London FBU union members will this week get the result of their ballot for industrial action
  • The ballot was sparked by bosses starting the process of sacking more than 5,500 firefighters
  • Bosses want to force through the sackings to tear up firefighters’ contracts and push them onto worse shifts
  • The shift changes would see firefighters’ 15-hour night shifts and nine-hour day shifts changed to equal-sized 12-hour day and night shifts
  • These shift changes will make it much easier to push through dangerous cuts
  • Firefighters are demanding that the sacking threat is immediately lifted. If it isn’t, they will then ballot for strikes

March on the London fire authority meeting: assemble 11am, Thursday 16 September, Aldwych, London

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