Socialist Worker

Firefighters walk out against attacks on their pensions

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2372

Firefighters on a picket line

Firefighters and supporters on the picket line at Hornsey fire station this afternoon (Pic: Emma Davis)

 

Firefighters struck across England and Wales today, Wednesday, in a row over pensions. The Tories want to force firefighters to work until they’re 60 or face savage cuts to their pensions. Today’s four-hour walkout was the first action by workers’ FBU union to stop the attack.

At Southwark Fire Station in south London, cars and vans started hooting their support as soon as firefighters walked out at 12 noon. Simon Chapman is the FBU rep for Southwark. He told Socialist Worker, “I pay a lot of money for my pension but I think it’s a fair one. The government now says we have to work ten years longer to get the same pension.

“But the government’s own research shows that many firefighters won’t be able to work until they’re 60. Some 60 year olds can swim the English channel. It doesn’t mean every 60 year old can.”

The government’s Williams Report estimated that, in the worst case scenario, 85 percent of firefighters would be unfit to work at 55 years of age. If a firefighter was forced to retire at 55 they would lose half their pension. Effectively the Tory plans are a raid on firefighters’ pensions.

FBU member Tim Marchant walked out in central London. He told Socialist Worker, “What I hate is the hypocrisy. MPs claim for everything. “The government is just ignoring us – so we’re making a stand.” 

Solidarity

Firefighters won huge support for their walkout. Trade unionists and campaigners visited picket lines to show solidarity. In Southwark, passing teachers taking children on a trip told strikers, “All the best” and “Well done”. Another worker brought a group of primary school children from nearby Charles Dickens school to say hello to the strikers.

Almost 300 firefighters from across south Wales gathered in Cardiff for a march on the Welsh Assembly to lobby the Welsh government. They were joined by supporters from PCS Wales and Revenue and Customs south Wales branch.

Edd Rodgers was striking at Aikman Avenue fire station in Leicester. He told Socialist Worker, “We know we have the arguments on our side and we know the public support us. “The new proposals aren’t realistic. You can’t have 60 year old firefighters.”

Around 100 drivers on London Underground refused to take trains out because of safety concerns. Steve Hedley is assistant general secretary of the drivers’ RMT union. He told Socialist Worker, “The action has affected the Piccadilly, Victoria and Hammersmith & City lines in particular.

“It will go on throughout the firefighters’ strike and it will impact on services. During the Kings Cross fire in 1987, and during fires ever since, firefighters have risked their lives to save passengers and staff on London Underground. We don’t see why people doing a socially-useful job should be attacked. I fully support firefighters’ right to retire at 55 on a full pension after a lifetime of heroism.”

Today’s strike should be the start of a hard-hitting campaign of action that can smash the Tories’ attacks. As Simon from Southwark put it, “I personally think the union should be escalating. I think FBU members are up for a fight.”


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