Socialist Worker

Firefighters out on strike on Christmas Eve

by Annette Mackin
Issue No. 2384

Firefighters, their supporters and a big solidarity card at Dowgate in London

Firefighters, their supporters and a big solidarity card at Dowgate in London (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Firefighters in England and Wales walked out on strike on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, over government attacks on their pensions.

The strike, which lasted from 7pm to 12 midnight is the seventh time workers have struck this year. The government wants to make firefighters pay more into their pensions and work longer.

They also want to make it easier to sack any firefighter whose fitness declines before the new retirement age.

“It isn’t fair, it’s not the right thing they’re doing,” Matt, a firefighter at Dowgate fire station in central London, told Socialist Worker.

Under the government’s new proposed pension scheme firefighters will be required to work up until they’re 60—up from 55. If workers fail to remain fit enough, they will be sacked under capability assessments.

“The government are only doing it because they think they have the power,” said Matt.

“I shudder to think of what it’ll be like to be nearly 60 and pitching a massive ladder, hauling a long hose and heavy breathing gear around. The guys who work here are scared for their lives.”

There were about 850 calls in London because of the storms on Monday night, five times the usual amount.

“If we were on strike last night, we could’ve smashed the government,” one firefighter told Socialist Worker.

And as the government attacks firefighters’ pensions it is also planning to close ten stations and axe 552 frontline jobs in London alone.

Another firefighter at Dowgate station said, “There been three major incidents this year which has shown why the cuts make no sense.

“There was the helicopter crash in Vauxhall in January, there was the Apollo theatre roof collapse recently and the bus crash in south London last week.

“By January, half of the stations that responded to those emergencies will be gone.”

Two benefits justice activists Nicola and Tanya from Southwark joined striking firefighters’ on the picket line at Dowgate. They brought a card signed with messages of support for the strike.

“We collected signatures on the high street from members of the public and trade unionists,” Nicola told Socialist Worker.

And this latest strike will be followed by two more called by the Fire Brigade’s Union (FBU). The next strike will take place on New Years Eve from 6.30pm to 12.30am for firefighters in England and Wales.

In Essex, bosses have announced they will effectively lock out workers by telling them once the strike is over, they would not be required to return to work, and will not be paid.

Bosses have told workers to return to work at 9am—eight and a half hours after the strike has ended.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said, “This is an incredibly irresponsible decision.

 “In a bizarre twist, the Essex fire chiefs say it is not a ‘lock-out’ as they will allow striking firefighters to work for free until 9am on New Year’s Day.

“At the same time it is believed the reduced stand-in cover will be paid up to four times more than the standard rates of pay for working the additional hours of effective lock-out.”

Firefighters will also walk out on 3 January from 6.30am to 8.30am. 

 


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