The FBU union’s bi-annual conference takes place in Blackpool from Tuesday to Friday of next week. It comes as firefighters’ pensions, jobs and the fire service are under sustained attack.
While the rich have doubled their wealth under the Tories some 5,000 firefighter jobs, 40 stations and 150 engines have been axed.
Tory fire minister Penny Mordaunt lied to parliament to push through a vote on pension changes to make firefighters work until 60—up from 55.
Firefighters struck over 50 times in 18 months against the attacks. But the solid walkouts were not backed up with sustained action.
Simon Hickman, a firefighter in Greater Manchester, told Socialist Worker, “The huge pauses have demoralised the strongest members and the least confident think it’s all over.
“Every walkout was solid. But that confidence was not reflected in the decisions of the leadership.”
The stop-start nature of the campaign only gave confidence to fire bosses.
They sacked executive council member Ricky Matthews in Buckinghamshire last year for taking part in a strike, and locked out workers. The union should have responded by escalating action.
Labour did not support the pension changes and some argue the way to reverse the attacks is to get it elected. But Labour raised the retirement age to 60 for firefighters starting after April 2006.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack has attacked Labour’s “disgraceful record of attacks on public services”.
But he argues, “The only realistic alternative in the current situation is a Labour government or Labour-led coalition.”
A conference fringe meeting will debate how to organise to win and challenge the union leadership’s current strategy.
Simon said, “Strikes can win. When we struck for four days back to back last summer we put a strain on fire bosses.