Firefighters in London are going into battle against their Tory bosses—setting an example for workers everywhere.
They are beginning a strike ballot this week—days after winning a massive 95 percent vote for industrial action short of a strike.
The FBU union announced the strike ballot as more than 3,000 firefighters surrounded bosses’ headquarters in London last week.
Firefighters from across the country, joined by other workers, marched on the fire authority meeting to demand it withdrew its threat to sack every firefighter in London.
But despite the mass march, their Tory boss Brian Coleman—hiding in fire authority headquarters—refused to back down on the sackings.
He is determined to tear up firefighters’ contracts and force through worse shifts—and the new shifts would lead to less fire cover at night.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack told the rally, “The fire authority has refused to withdraw the sacking notices today.
“Therefore we have, this afternoon, faxed the fire authority formal notice that the strike ballot will commence in seven days’ time.”
The announcement was met with a huge roar from the crowd.
“When we now start our ballot for strikes, that will be a huge yes vote as well, I’m confident of it,” Wrack told the Thursday rally.
“We won’t allow ourselves to be bullied. You don’t negotiate with a gun to your head. We stick together on the fire ground—and we’ll stick together on the picket line as well.”
The firefighters, many dressed in formal uniform, marched from London’s Aldwych across the river to the bosses’ headquarters in Southwark.
They blew whistles and chanted “Get Coleman out”—a wall of noise that union officials say could be heard from inside the bosses’ meeting.
London FBU executive council member Ian Leahair added, “Let’s make it clear to that Tory bully in there,” he said to the crowd. “Are you prepared to strike if you have to?” The shout of “yes” in response was deafening.
Ryan Moore, a Clapham firefighter, told Socialist Worker, “No one wants to strike—but if it comes down to it it’s what we’ll have to do.
“It’s the bosses cutting jobs and changing shifts who are really putting people at risk.”
London firefighters were joined by delegations from as far away as Devon, Yorkshire and Scotland.
Pete Greaves, FBU brigade chair in Norfolk, told Socialist Worker, “This is the start of a wave that’s going to start hitting us now. That’s why we’re here.”
Jim Malone, FBU regional organiser for Scotland, said, “We fought 12-hour shifts in Tayside two years ago, so we know the struggle the comrades in London are facing.”
Action short of a strike, including an overtime ban and withdrawal of goodwill so that firefighters only do the duties they are contracted to do, was set to begin on Friday.
The strike ballot was set to start this Thursday, meaning the firefighters could walk out as soon as next month.
Trade unionists from across London pledged their solidarity with the firefighters.
London organiser for the RMT union, Steve Hedley, told the rally, “I bring full solidarity and support from the RMT.
“If you go on strike, I can guarantee you that the RMT will try and ensure no tube trains move in London, because it would be totally unsafe.”