ABOUT 1,000 firefighters and their families joined a march in Swansea on Saturday as part of the accelerating national pay campaign. Two days later 400 marched on the Isle of Wight. It was the perfect answer to the chief officer there, who had boasted to local Fire Brigades Union (FBU) officials that they would 'never get anyone to turn out for a march on the Isle of Wight'.
A further march was due in Belfast on Saturday. The pay campaign is heading towards a major confrontation with the government. FBU activists across Britain are pulling the stops out for a national rally on Monday 2 September in London.
A recalled conference of the FBU is set for 12 September, where delegates will hear recommendations from their executive for a national strike ballot. 'The feeling on the stations and control rooms is so strong,' Stuart Bruton from Cwmbran told Socialist Worker on the Swansea demonstration.
'Of course no one wants to have to go on strike. But we are determined to get a pay settlement that reflects the value of the work we do, and people are prepared to fight for that.' A fully qualified firefighter gets just £21,531 a year for a 42-hour week. There are no payments on top for working shifts, and there are no annual increments. There are, however, big pension contributions. Lawrence Larmond from Neath says, 'We don't expect to have members forced to claim Working Families Tax Credit.'
Lee Moriarty from Cardiff was on the Swansea demonstration with his eight year old son, Ben. Lee said, 'I have three children aged two, eight and ten. My wife doesn't go out to work, so the whole family has to rely on my wage. You find yourself scrambling around for the last few quid at the end of every month. You could say Ben's on the march for a bit of extra pocket money.'
The national employers, representing mostly Labour-run fire authorities, are refusing to concede a big pay rise. The government is worried. John Prescott has held talks with the employers. But it is also preparing plans to use the army to scab on any strike.
Every trade unionist should be making contact with local FBU members now and inviting them to put their case at union meetings.