Socialist Worker

Firefighters lead resistance to cuts

by Tom Walker
Issue No. 2226

Firefighters stand firm on the picket line on Monday  (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/Guy Smallman )

Firefighters stand firm on the picket line on Monday (Pic: Guy Smallman)


London firefighters walked out for a second solid strike on Monday—as they prepared for their key two-day strike starting Friday, Bonfire Night.

The strike is set to start on Friday at 10am and continue for 47 hours. It is the biggest escalation yet in the campaign against cuts. Bosses want to sack all 5,500 London firefighters unless they sign up to new shifts that will lead to cuts to night-time fire cover.

Despite a media onslaught, the FBU union members stood firm on Monday.

During the previous strike, mass pickets kept the scabs, provided by private firm AssetCo, out of every single fire station.

On Monday the scab bosses changed their strategy, trying to get access to a smaller number of fire stations and use them as “hubs” for up to three scab engines per station.

But they faced resistance every step of the way.

More than 100 firefighters from across east London joined a picket line at Shoreditch fire station—and defended it from scabs all day.

Truth

“They drove past a few times earlier and had a look,” Hackney FBU rep Gareth Beeton told Socialist Worker. “They’ve not returned.”

Tower Hamlets FBU rep Chris Boag added, “Wherever they operate from, the truth is there’s no fire cover in London at the moment.

“AssetCo can’t even go into a burning building. They’re only trained to squirt water from outside. That can make a fire worse.”

At Old Kent Road, where scabs managed to get in once in the morning, the call went out for more firefighters to join the picket. Despite the presence of two vanloads of police, the scab engines were then kept out of the station later in the day.

Strikers were as determined as ever to picket—in defiance of fire authority attempts to vilify them in the press.

FBU rep Mark Triphook spoke to Socialist Worker on the picket line in Dagenham.

“The brigade is smearing the workforce to try to get people to sign new contracts,” he said.

Stabbed

“But it’s had the opposite effect—people are angry. They feel they’ve been stabbed in the back.”

Alan, a Dagenham firefighter, added, “No one here has joined the job to become a millionaire. We do it to protect the public.”

Firefighters from across Britain came to show solidarity with the London workforce, including delegations from Essex, Merseyside, Manchester and as far away as Scotland and Wales.

Essex firefighters are being told they must cover incidents in London during the strikes, but the FBU says this would put 999 cover in Essex at risk. Essex FBU was set to begin a ballot for industrial action over the issue this week.

As darkness fell and the strike ended on Monday, up to 300 firefighters came to picket outside the scabs’ base, the fire brigade’s training centre in Southwark.

They chanted “shame on you” at the scabs, many of whom were hidden under balaclavas.

Delegations from other unions, including Unite, Unison and the NUT, came to support the picket. A group of 25 Unite members had handed in a £300 donation earlier in the day.

Unite member Nichola Smith told Socialist Worker, “The firefighters have a lot more support than the press would have you believe—that’s shown by the amount of money we were able to collect. Everyone wanted to support them.”

Monday showed that the bosses are willing to go to any length to break this strike—but it also showed that mass pickets, with broad support, can stop the scabs in their tracks.

Firefighters should escalate the action further and call for support from everyone. Why not call a mass picket, open to all, early in the day at Southwark to stop AssetCo before they start?

The whole workers’ movement needs to get behind the Bonfire Night strikes.

A victory for the firefighters will be a victory for us all.


Scab cars hit FBU pickets

Vehicles driven by strike-breakers knocked down two strikers on Monday.

In Croydon, south London, a picketing firefighter, named by colleagues as Tam Osdamir, was allegedly hit by station manager Chris Young’s car.

Young is believed to have been accompanying a scab fire engine at the time.

FBU president Mick Shaw said, “As pickets tried to talk to the driver of the car, it accelerated suddenly and one of the firefighters was thrown up and into the windscreen, then several feet in front of the car.

“When he didn’t get up we asked the AssetCo people for a first aid kit and some blankets—they refused.”

Tam was taken to hospital with pelvic injuries.

Not long after, FBU official Ian Leahair was hit by a scab fire engine. He was taken to hospital with suspected broken ribs.

Watch Mick Shaw's account here


Fire man with THREE jobs!

The press has been full of stories about firefighters having “second jobs”.

But Tory fire authority boss Brian Coleman has at least three jobs—senior Barnet councillor, London assembly member and fire authority chair.

Last year he had a fourth as well, mayor of Barnet, and earned over £100,000 in total. The Daily Mail doesn’t mention that.

Striking firefighters greeting scabs in Southwark, south London, on Monday evening  (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/Guy Smallman )

Striking firefighters greeting scabs in Southwark, south London, on Monday evening (Pic: Guy Smallman)



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