Socialist Worker

Striking firefighters turn up the heat on the Tories

by Annette Mackin
Issue No. 2416

Picket lines were strong at fire stations across England and Wales this week

Picket lines were strong at fire stations across England and Wales this week (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Firefighters are at a crucial stage of their fight against Tory attacks on their pensions. Firefighters in the FBU union in England and Wales began a series of strikes on Saturday of last week.

They are walking out of stations from noon to 2pm and again from 10.59pm to 11.59pm until Saturday of this week. It is their second week of strikes in a month.

In the run up to the walkout Tory fire minister Penny Mordaunt cancelled talks with the union.

But the move has only made firefighters more defiant to keep up the fight. 

“We’re not going to give up,” said striking Greater Manchester firefighter Paul Mackrill.

“I’ve not heard a single person say they’re giving in — we’re too angry about what the government is doing.

“If anything, the fire minister cancelling the talks has made us all more resilient.

“We’ve even got firefighters who will be getting their pension in the next couple of years coming out on strike.”

The Tories are intent on driving through pension attacks. Firefighters would be expected to work until they are 60, up from the current 55. They will only get the full pension they signed up for if they work for 40 years in the service.

If they fail to achieve fitness standards they could lose up to half of their pension or face the sack. 

Report

Even the government’s own report admits that two thirds will not meet the current fitness standard.

“The proposals are very worrying. Manchester hasn’t recruited for about four years—the workforce is ageing,” said Paul. 

“If they start the new pension scheme, I can’t see anyone doing a 40-year stint as a firefighter. Say the average age is 28, there’s no way a firefighter can stay operational until they’re 68.”

Firefighters’ picket lines have been strong all over. 

At Euston in central London pickets hung up a sign outside the station. 

It read, “Striking is one of the only powers working people have, of course the government want to demonise it.”

In Essex pickets were outside every station. Essex FBU brigade chair Riccardo La Torre told Socialist Worker, “We’ve had new members signing up to the union on the picket line, it’s been fantastic.”

Firefighters’ strikes can win this dispute.

They have escalated their action in the last few months, with two 24-hour walkouts including one alongside 1.4 million other workers on 10 July.

And they have followed this up with two week-long walkouts. This has boosted momentum and workers’ confidence in continuing the fight.

Before he was promoted in the cabinet reshuffle, hated previous fire minister Brandon Lewis offered firefighters a deal he initially presented last June.

This was significant, as the government said it wouldn’t offer it again.

It doesn’t go anywhere near addressing firefighters’ concerns. But it shows how rattled the Tories are by the action firefighters are taking.

“As long as the government and fire minister keep playing games, we will keep escalating,” said Riccardo.

Tory fire minister Penny Mordaunt

Tory fire minister Penny Mordaunt (Pic: Dept for Communities and Local Government/Flickr)


Workers can beat Bucks lockout

Fire bosses in Buckinghamshire plan to shut striking workers out of stations for 168 hours. The lockout has provoked outrage.

“It’s madness—it’s a spiteful tactic to beat the strike,” said Essex FBU brigade chair Riccardo La Torre. 

“But all brigades are doing collections for our brothers and sisters.”

Firefighters from Hayes, west London refused an order to cross into the Buckinghamshire fire district on Monday of this week.

Bosses are on the offensive, and with Mordaunt’s cancellation of negotiations firefighters will have to escalate to beat the attacks.

 


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