Socialist Worker

Firefighters' union announces more strikes at Christmas and New Year

by Annette Mackin
Issue No. 2384

Pickets at London’s Queen’s Road fire station in December

Pickets at London’s Queen’s Road fire station in December (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Firefighters in England and Wales have called strikes during two of the busiest periods of the Christmas holidays.

Workers are set to walk out on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve over Tory attacks on their pensions.

The government wants to make workers pay more into their pensions and work longer. 

And they want to make it easier to sack firefighters whose fitness declines.

“Enough is enough” Neale Williams, chair of Dowgate Fire Brigades Union (FBU)branch in south London, told Socialist Worker. 

“The government and the bosses are playing hardball—only strikes now have the power to win.”

The strike on Christmas Eve will begin at 7pm and end at midnight. The walkout on New Year’s Eve is set to last from 6.30pm to 12.30am on the 1 January. 

Workers are also due to strike on Friday 3 January between 6.30am and 8.30am.

FBU members in England, Wales and Scotland will also launch a 48-hour overtime ban set to start at 7pm on 27 December. 

This is the first time that workers in Scotland will join firefighters in England and Wales since they backed action short of a strike this month.

Simon Hickman, a firefighter at Agecroft station in Greater Manchester, told Socialist Worker, “These strikes will test the resilience of cover. It’ll be difficult getting scabs to work over the holiday period. 

“These strikes will now put us into new ground, out of the normal working pattern. It puts serious pressure on management.”

Firefighters are furious about a proposed rise in pension contributions.

Most firefighters who take home approximately £1,650 a month already pay £320 or more into their pensions. 

Firefighters on strike in Forest Hill, south London

Firefighters on strike in Forest Hill, south London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


From April 2014 this would rise, for the third year in a row, to over £340 a month. Many face a fourth rise of 2.2 percent in 2015.

And on top of this, a large section of firefighters face an additional threat to their pensions as the government ignores long standing agreements. 

As a result, they will not receive the pension they were promised despite paying into their scheme for years.

Tory fire minister Brandon Lewis has also withdrawn an offer he made in June. This was for pension contributions to be an average of 13.2 percent of firefighters’ wages.

The new scheme expects firefighters to work until they are 60—up from 55. And the government wants to make it easier to sack workers under capability assessments if they fail to maintain the required level of fitness.

Lewis claims that the new proposals won’t mean sackings. But outrageously, bosses in Manchester have already sacked one firefighter on capability grounds—after he sustained an injury while working.

Furious FBU members on the Greater Manchester Committee are calling for strikes and a recall FBU conference.

Simon said, “There’s been that much of a push from membership over it that several resolutions are going through branches calling for an immediate ballot.”

The announcement of more walkouts is an escalation of the six firefighters’ strikes that have already taken place this year.

And they will follow two successful walkouts that took place on Friday and Saturday of last week, when firefighters struck for four hours each day. 

FBU London regional secretary Paul Embery went around pickets in London. He told Socialist Worker, “The strikes have been solid, it’s going well”.

Staffordshire firefighters stood around a banner that read, “We save lives not banks” in Sandyford. 

Workers at Leicester Western station put up a sign outside the building saying “Closed due to pension theft”.

Yusuf Timms, FBU London borough secretary for Kensington and Chelsea, said that there needed to be a strategy of strikes to win.

“There’s a danger that strikes can become just part of the furniture,” he told Socialist Worker. 

“There’s this motion for a 24-hour strike, which came about after the strikes were called off in October. The focus has to be on getting that motion through.

“The employers are on the offensive—we need to stay one step ahead.”

 


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