Socialist Worker

Firefighters see in the new year with a strike

by Annette Mackin
Issue No. 2384

The picket line at Clerkenwell station in London on New Years Eve

The picket line at Clerkenwell station in London on New Year's Eve (Pic: Emma Davis)


Firefighters in England and Wales in the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) went on strike last night, New Years Eve, over government attacks on their pensions.

Workers walked out of stations at 6.30pm and struck until 12.30am. This eighth strike in the dispute follows a five hour walkout on Christmas Eve.

Firefighters are striking because Tory fire minister Brandon Lewis is leading an assault on their pensions. Fire bosses want to make firefighters work longer—up from 55 to 60.

And if workers fail to remain the levels of fitness the job demands, they will be sacked under capability assessments.

Despite claims by Lewis that firefighters won’t be sacked under capability assessments, a worker in Greater Manchester has been sacked on capability grounds—after sustaining an injury while working.

Picket Simon Hickman, at Agecroft station in Greater Manchester, told Socialist Worker, “Workers realise the implication of this sacking, we talk about losing our pensions but losing your job because you’re injured blows it out of the water.

“It’s like you’re not even safe to turn up for work.”

Firefighters in Greater Manchester may also strike over the sacking.

“We’ve got a number of resolutions passed and at the next brigade’s committee on 10 January we will take the decision whether to strike.”

The sacking is seen as a provocation. Simon said, “The government think they can weather the storm with these short strike action we are taking, we need to change tack and go for longer strikes to really put the pressure on.”

Chair of Essex FBU Riccardo La Torre told Socialist Worker, “The strike’s going good. Our union general secretary Matt Wrack is here and we’re visiting picket lines over the county. We’ve had very good support from the public, it’s been overwhelming, a really good show.”

Fire bosses in Essex attempted to undermine the strike by telling workers they would effectively lock them out eight and a half hours after the strike had ended.

They were told that although the strike ended at 12.30am, they would not be required to return to work until 9am and would not be paid for the duration either.

On top of this, scabs who were covering the strike shifts would be paid four times the standard rates of pay for working the hours of the lock out.

Riccardo said, “Firefighters in Essex are rightly angry that they’re being treated like this. The workforce were prepared to come back after the strike and were told they were going to be locked out.

“We sought assurances of what protection would be in place if firefighters did return to work and were told there were none.”

Firefighters in England and Wales will strike again on 3 January from 6.30am to 8.30am.

Riccardo said, “Firefighters in Essex will definitely be taking part in that.”

 


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