Socialist Worker

Thousands of firefighters strike and rally over Tory pension lies

by Annette Mackin
Issue No. 2442

Angry firefighters surged through central London on Wednesday

Angry firefighters surged through central London on Wednesday (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Thousands of striking firefighters blocked the streets of central London around parliament yesterday, Wednesday, as they protested against Tory attacks on their pensions.

Following a strike rally in Westminster, some 4,000 marched to the Houses of Parliament and then to Downing Street to confront the government over its lies.

Firefighters walked out of stations on Wednesday morning to strike for 24 hours over the continued attacks.

John, a firefighter at Shoreditch station in east London, said that he was “sick” of the Tories’ lies.

“When I reach 55 I’ll be cast onto the scrapheap. I’ve worked out that I could lose around £120,000 from what I’ll pay in extra contributions, plus loss in pension,” he told Socialist Worker.

Tory fire minister Penny Mordaunt claimed that there were guarantees in place to protect firefighters if they failed to remain fit until retirement age.

She said workers aged 55 who failed a fitness test through no fault of their own would receive a full, unreduced pension or a redeployed role.

She used this to swing a crucial parliamentary vote on pensions last December.

But when the firefighters’ FBU union asked fire authorities if this guarantee would be implemented, they confirmed it wouldn’t.

“But it’s not just about money,” said John. “I want to be secure in the fact that when I’m putting my life on the line, I’m being backed.”

The walkout is the latest in a dispute that has lasted over 18 months.

Thousands of firefighters packed into the strike rally in Methodist Central Hall to hear FBU general secretary Matt Wrack update workers on the campaign.

He said, “We will not allow chief officers to hand them away or anyone else to steal off of us without a fight—it was never given on a plate, and we won’t give up now.

“We are not going away, we are not giving up. We get organised and we stand up and we fight back.”

Firefighters have the power to beat the Tories. The anger on Wednesday’s picket lines, rally and protest shows the mood to fight the attacks. The fighting rhetoric of the hall has to be met with a strategy to win.

Fire bosses were under real pressure when workers escalated to four days of strikes last summer. But the union leadership didn't follow up with more walkouts and momentum stalled.

Fire bosses then sacked executive council member Ricky Matthews last November, and locked out Buckinghamshire workers for 39 hours on Wednesday.

Wrack confirmed that there is set to be a Buckinghamshire brigade committee meeting this week. He said if they vote on a ballot and a strike they would be backed by the union.

Many firefighters are calling for harder hitting strikes to put pressure on the government—and to win.

Les Skarratts, FBU secretary for the North West region told Socialist Worker, “Today has been a remarkable show of strength.

“We believe more strikes are inevitable, and we’ll be pushing for it in our region. Our members are up for that. We are not going away, we are determined to see this through.”

Essex firefighters are set to strike for a second time over attacks on their jobs and the service. On Sunday they are striking from 6pm for 12 hours and Monday they’ll be out 6am until 9am. Rush messages of support to [email protected] and on Twitter @EssexFBU

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