Firefighters across England and Wales walked out on strike today, Friday, to defend their pensions.
FBU union banners, placards and braziers were brought out of hundreds of fire stations at noon in the first of three strikes this weekend.
It was the first walkout in the long running dispute since New Year’s Eve.
Kieron was on the picket line at Euston station. He told Socialist Worker, “Management have been stringing us along, now we have to fight.”
Government plans to force firefighters to work until they are 60 years old before they can get a full pension has enraged workers. If older firefighters fail fitness “capability assessments” they will either face the sack or be forced to retire on half their pension.
“The thought of getting sacked for getting old is ridiculous” said Kieron, “Ask any member of the pubic if they had their family trapped in a house fire whether they would want a firefighter who was over 60 years old to try and rescue them.”
FBU regional secretary Paul Embery told Socialist Worker, “We were led to believe that the government had some revised proposals to put on the table. But they haven’t shown us anything new. We have been treated shabbily.”
But he said firefighters are determined. “What the government doesn’t understand is the solidarity that binds us together by the nature of the job. We are going to fight, even if this is a long, hard dispute.”
The debate on the picket lines was about how to win.
Simon Hickman, a firefighter in Manchester, said escalation was essential. “There’s only one way to go now, we have to up the pressure,” he said.
Many strikers talked about the possibility of unity with other public sector workers taking action. At Euston, where the local trades council and Unison branch brought their banners in solidarity, striker Harvey said, “We should put a million people on the streets like they do in Greece”.
Firefighters in the red watch at Brixton fire station in south London explained why longer action would hit harder.
“They only have one shift’s worth of personnel to cover during strikes,” one picket told Socialist Worker. “They would struggle if we were out for more than 24 hours—and there is a mood to go for a week’s strike.”
Simon pointed out that in Greater Manchester recruits to cover during strikes there had shrunk from enough to cover three shifts to enough to only cover one and a half.
“If we escalate we can take them to breaking point. That’s what my brigade will be pushing for. The union leadership says that other regions are not keen on escalating. But it’s not clear who these other regions are. Everyone I talk to wants to.”
Kiley was picketing in Whitechapel in East London, “We’ve had a little strike here and there, but what have we really gained?” she said, “We need strikes to stretch the scabbing operation. I don’t want anyone to get hurt, but we have to fight otherwise they’ll keep taking more.”
Firefighters are set to strike again on Saturday from 2pm and Sunday from 10am. Send your photos and stories from picket lines to [email protected]