Some 600 firefighters and supporters marched against London fire cuts last week.
The mood was buoyant, especially during a sit down protest in the middle of London Bridge.
This is reminiscent of the pay campaign in 2002, when FBU union members closed down Parliament Square and invaded London Fire Brigade HQ. It’s inspiring to see some of that confidence returning.
So far the FBU’s campaign has saved two of the 12 threatened stations and four of the eighteen pumps.
This shows that the leafleting, the marches and rallies, and building support in the community is having an impact.
It shows that the self-activity of FBU members and the solidarity of other workers is the key to defending jobs and services.
Some FBU members had written off defending fire cover. They said everyone was facing cuts and we’d get no public support. The context for this was our union leaders’ failure to give a clear and consistent lead.
Formally they opposed the cuts, but in reality they did very little. This failed to mobilise the wider rank and file.
Too often threatened stations were left to get on with it by themselves. Unaffected stations were not mobilised.
Without a clear strategy put forward by our union leaders the argument that there was nothing we could do gained ground. The bosses smelled the malaise.
The Tory fire authority chair and senior officers toured stations arrogantly declaring cuts were inevitable. But a minority of FBU activists, alongside local people, refused to give in.
They organised activity that kept the flame of resistance burning. Confidence was very uneven and the intervention of left political activists was crucial.
A brilliant march in Clapham last month really kickstarted our campaign. It would not have been possible without the support built by Socialist Workers Party members, Unite the Resistance activists and the local Labour Party.
Clapham established a model for others to follow. It showed how socialists coming into fire stations with messages of solidarity and pledges of support raised the confidence of firefighters.
As a result FBU members launched local campaigns in other areas and we have won the first victory. Now we need to up the ante to win.
At last week’s London demo FBU general secretary Matt Wrack urged everyone to fight the cuts and to build a big yes vote in the national strike ballot to defend pensions.
He’s right to link the two issues. A big yes vote in the ballot will help build the confidence of London FBU members to consider strikes against the cuts.
They aren’t there yet, but the task facing FBU activists is clear. Build the national strike ballot and raise the question of strikes against cuts.
A minority has saved Clapham and New Cross fire stations—the majority could save them all.