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Firefighters back a national strike ballot over pensions

As the FBU prepares for battle, firefighter Yusuf Timms says mobilising the rank and file is the way to beat the Tories

Issue No. 2354

Firefighters and activists marched in Brixton, south London, against fire cuts last week

Firefighters and activists marched in Brixton, south London, against fire cuts last week (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) stepped up the campaign to defend firefighters’ pensions by voting for a strike ballot at its conference last week. 

The dispute, like many others over pensions,

centres on government plans to increase the retirement age and the contributions firefighters’ pay.

There is the added issue of what is termed “capability dismissals”. 

The government wants firefighters to work until they are 60—and be able to sack them before that should they fail to remain operationally fit.

This would leave firefighters without access to their pensions.

The union’s response has been cautious until now. The opportunity to strike with others in November 2011 was passed up in favour of a joint review with the government.

That review was largely inconclusive. But it did back the union’s claim that 60 is an unworkable retirement age for firefighters.

For this reason the Tories have ignored it and pressed on with their plans.

We’ve seen resistance in recent campaigns against fire cuts across Britain.


FBU members want to see more—and many are ready to fight over pensions. Yet the long period of negotiations has done nothing to galvanise the strength of the union.

The emergency motion that the Executive Council put to conference called for two further weeks of negotiations.

This would be followed by a strike ballot if no progress is made.

However, the motion contained concessions to the government. And the press release, issued after it gained unanimous support, made no mention of strikes. 

At this stage the union’s emphasis is still on the need for negotiations, rather than mobilising members.

We all hope that strikes are not necessary to defend our pensions.

But if we don’t mobilise for them, and get the biggest possible yes vote in a ballot, what pressure can we bring to negotiations?

We need to mobilise the rank and file to build the biggest possible yes vote. 

This will give us the best chance of putting pressure on the government and will build confidence among union members to fight.

The FBU agreed to affiliate to the campaign against the bedroom tax at its conference last week. It also reaffirmed its decision to remain outside the Labour Party.

Left wing activists in the FBU organised a fringe meeting backed by a number of brigades. 

The meeting discussed the need to build a left network inside the union to help organise opposition to the employers. 

Delegates agreed to meet again in a month.

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Tue 21 May 2013, 19:16 BST
Issue No. 2354
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