Firefighters across England and Wales were set to strike on Wednesday of this week to defend their pensions. Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members will walk out from 12 noon to 4pm. Many are relieved that the union has finally called action—but say more needs to follow if they are to win.
Neale Williams is a FBU member in south London. He told Socialist Worker, “It’s good to have action as two years of talks have got us nowhere.
“But we need more than four hours. And when we fight together we’re stronger—so why is Scotland not out? We’ve got to maximise our impact. That means longer and harder hitting strikes across the whole of Britain.”
Firefighters are in a strong position. Bosses have asked the FBU to agree to voluntarily recall its members to work in case of a disaster.
Neale said, “This shows they haven’t got a proper scabbing operation in place. This is a time when we should be putting the foot on the neck.”
An FBU rep in Manchester agreed. “We have the potential to win,” he said. “Only six fire brigades have got a scabbing operation. In Cheshire bosses plan to deal with the strike by offering extra fire safety advice. So all they can do is tell people to be more careful.”
It’s not safe to be rushing to blazes until you reach sixty
The government wants firefighters to work until they are 60 and sack them before then if they are no longer fit to work. The plan threatens the vast majority of firefighters with the sack—and no proper pension.
Simon Hickman is an FBU rep at Agecroft Fire Station in Greater Manchester. He told Socialist Worker, “The government commissioned the Williams Report into firefighters’ pension age.
“Its worst case scenario estimated that 85 percent of firefighters would be unfit for duty at 55 years old.” The government claims that older firefighters could be moved to less physically demanding jobs. Yet FBU research found “only a handful” of such jobs existed.
Forcing firefighters to work until they are 60 puts the public and firefighters at risk. And those forced to retire at 55 will lose half their pension.
No wonder 78 percent of FBU members backed strikes in a recent ballot.
Workers can build solidarity
FBU rep Simon Hickman is calling on other trade unionists to visit fire stations to support the strikes. “Solidarity makes such a difference,” he said. I went with others to support Hovis workers’ picket lines in Wigan. It gave strikers more confidence and
they started blocking delivery trucks. That had a real impact in the dispute.”
Wednesday’s strike must be the start of a serious campaign.
Firefighters should push their union leaders to coordinate future action with other unions that are fighting the Tories too.