Firefighters on strike in Essex marched through the town of Chelmsford on Wednesday together with supporters from up and down the country.
After the 1,000-strong march there were cheers as the firefighters’ FBU union called more strike dates for this month and next—including action targeting the Olympics.
The 24-hour strike was part of the union’s long running battle against cuts to frontline firefighter jobs in Essex. Some 100 full-time and 60 part-time posts have been axed in the county since 2008.
Lack of money isn’t the problem, the firefighters were keen to stress. “They’ve got the money,” said Essex FBU brigade chair Alan Chinn-Shaw. “The fire authority has increased its reserves from £4 million to £16 million—yet at the same time we’ve lost 160 firefighters.”
Rank and file firefighters spoke to Socialist Worker anonymously about the treatment they have faced from Essex fire authority bosses.
“It’s bullying and intimidation,” said one as the march assembled in Chelmsford’s Admirals Park. “That’s what these people are about.”
Another added, “We’ve had years of this kind of attitude from the chief fire officer and senior managers. They think they can do what they like. I’m glad to be out today just to show them they can’t just get away with it.”
Essex fire authority put out a provocative statement before the march accusing the FBU of “partying in the park” and “bemoaning cuts to this that and the other”.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack blasted back that the county’s chief fire officer David Johnson was running “some kind of dictatorship”. “David Johnson had better wake up,” he said at the rally. “We’re not going to be pushed around.”
People came out of shops and pubs to watch and applaud as the marchers came down Chelmsford high street blowing whistles and waving flags.
As the firefighters reached Essex County Hall, home of the Tory council, they stopped for a long chorus of boos and chants of “No fire cuts!”.
Delegations of firefighters from every region of the union travelled to join the march. Pat Renshaw from South Yorkshire FBU said, “We held a march in Barnsley three years ago and had a fantastic turnout from all over. We’ve come to repay the favour.
“We’re all going through the same things—cuts to firefighter jobs and fire stations. We’ve got to say enough is enough. It’s putting lives at risk.”
Workers in other unions joined the demonstration too. Adam Pogalewski, a Unison member, said he had come to back the firefighters because they are “crucial for the whole community”.
Jason Williams is a Unite union member at the Coryton oil refinery, where workers are fighting closure plans. “At a refinery you need that fire support,” he said. “Everyone should know the importance of supporting their local firefighters.”
After the rally some 50 people came to a meeting organised by Unite the Resistance. Alan Chinn-Shaw spoke alongside a rank and file electrician and a Coryton refinery worker.
Essex firefighters will need the widest possible support in what could be a long running dispute. They have already taken three years of action short of a strike thanks to intransigence from the bosses. Wednesday was their third full strike.
The next round of action will combine a series of three-hour strikes with longer periods of refusals to perform some duties, targeting the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies in nearby east London.
The schedule for July and August is:
Thursday 26 July strikes from 2pm to 5pm and from 7pm to 10pm
Friday 27 July responding to 999 calls only from 6pm to 9am
Saturday 11 August strikes from 2.30pm to 5.30pm and from 9pm to midnight
Sunday 12 August responding to 999 calls only from 9am to 6am
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