London’s firefighters have launched a massive escalation of their strikes by calling a two-day walkout—starting on Bonfire Night. It will come just four days after an eight-hour walkout planned for Monday of next week.
The capital’s 5,500 firefighters and their FBU union are growing in confidence after they struck last Saturday and scored a huge victory against private scab firm AssetCo.
Militant mass pickets across London all but destroyed the bosses’ operation to break the strike.
Up to 400 firefighters picketed in Poplar, joined by FBU members who had come from across Kent to support them, and 200 in Dagenham, with a large delegation from Essex FBU.
Graham Beers, FBU rep for Dagenham, told Socialist Worker, “It was great to see the big groups turn up from Essex—the strikers walked out this morning to a big round of applause.”
There were also reports of pickets of as many as 50 firefighters at Homerton, Woodford Green and Shoreditch in east London and Kensington in west London, and many more stations where pickets were much bigger than expected.
AssetCo’s scabs did not manage to get into a single fire station. Instead they tried to operate out of car parks and side streets. By the end of the day they had as few as 11 fire crews left working to cover the whole city.
Now the bosses and the right wing press are attacking firefighters for calling a strike on 5 November, their busiest day of the year.
But it’s not the firefighters who are endangering safety—it’s the Tories and their cuts. Tory fire authority chair Brian Coleman ranted, “What sort of union orders its firefighters to go on strike over Bonfire Night?”
The answer is one that is sick of being bullied by the likes of Tory toad Coleman—a man who has not only started the process of sacking every firefighter in London, but even says he is “quite relaxed” about it.
Paul Carpen, FBU rep for Holloway, told Socialist Worker, “This strike is about the mass sacking of firefighters. Management’s attitude is take it or go.”
Lucy, another firefighter, added, “I spent sleepless nights deciding what to do. But we have no choice—if we don’t stand up now they will come for us again and again.”
People in cars honked in support as they drove past pickets, and passers-by stopped to chat and take leaflets. The firefighters explained to them what their dispute was about.
In North Kensington, firefighter Lee Homer said, “This isn’t about money—the bottom line is public safety. The fire authority says it’s about a few hours’ shift change, but it’s really about cutting fire engines and closing fire stations.”
Firefighters were shocked by the sheer incompetence of the AssetCo rent-a-scabs.
Strikers told Socialist Worker that they heard on the brigade’s radios that one scab fire engine drove into a wall, while another crashed into a lamp post.
In Leytonstone and Dagenham, scab fire crews were found hiding out in Tesco car parks. The Dagenham pickets sent a “greeting party” to go and tell the scabs what they thought of them.
In Poplar the pickets ran down the road after the scab engine, waving a huge FBU banner.
And in Kensington they twice managed to stop fire engines and express their anger to the scab crews inside.
After the second time, the scabs said they were giving up and taking the fire engine off duty.
The firefighters were boosted by the high level of public support they had on the picket lines. Council workers, post workers, teachers, college lecturers and Islington trades council activists, as well as students and local Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, joined strikers at Hornsey Road fire station (see picture above).
But as the firefighters launch their massive escalation, so we also need to step up our solidarity.
If you can, organise a refusal to work over safety at your workplace during the strikes. But whatever you do, collect money for the firefighters and get as many people as you can down to their picket lines.
This coming Monday, as they strike for eight hours from 10am, let’s light a fire of solidarity. And after that let’s make sure the scabs and the bosses really do remember the 5 November.
Download a Right to Work collection sheet for the firefighters at www.righttowork.org.uk