Socialist Worker

Firefighters call for action to be stepped up against government

Issue No. 2402

Firefighters in London on strike as part of last weekend’s round of walkouts in England and Wales

Firefighters in London on strike as part of last weekend’s round of walkouts in England and Wales (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Firefighters across England and Wales walked out on strike on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of last week to defend their pensions.

The FBU union says up to 40,000 workers took part in the walkouts—the first in their long running dispute since New Year’s Eve.

Kieron was on the picket line at Euston station on Friday. He told Socialist Worker, “Management have been stringing us along, now we have to fight.” 

Workers struck for five hours on Friday, for 12 hours from 2pm on Saturday and for five hours from 10am on  Sunday.

The government wants to force firefighters to work until they are 60 years old before they can get a full pension. 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 public 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.”

In London the anger was fuelled by recent fire station closures pushed through by Tory mayor Boris Johnson.

Safety

Dave, a picket in Stoke Newington, north east London, said “Johnson and his number-crunchers don’t give a damn about public safety or our pensions.”

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.”

Solidarity on the picket line

Solidarity on the picket line (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Firefighters in England and Wales are taking part in a ban on voluntary overtime from Monday until Friday of this week.

Firefighters in Scotland have not been a part of the recent strikes. But they are taking part in a ban on voluntary overtime from Friday of last week to Friday of this week. 

Bosses have further inflamed things with threats and measures that amount to an effective lockout during a previous strike. Colin, a firefighter at Dowgate station in London told Socialist Worker, “This is a national dispute, Scotland and Northern Ireland should be on strike too. 

“We also need longer strikes. And if any FBU members are locked out, the whole of the national union should strike for the duration of the lockout.”

The debate on the picket lines was about how to win.

Pressure

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”. 

Kiley, a firefighter at Whitechapel station in east London, called for longer strikes. She told Socialist Worker, “We’ve had a little strike here and there, but what have we really gained?”

Firefighters in the red watch at Brixton fire station in south London said 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 the number scabs recruited for the strikes 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,” he said. “That’s what my brigade will push for. The union leadership says other regions are not keen on escalating. But it’s not clear who these other regions are. Everyone I talk to wants to.” 

Some workers’ names have been changed

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