Firefighters and control staff in Suffolk were due to take three rounds of strike action this weekend and into next Monday in what is an important dispute for the FBU union.
“You are on the front line of the union’s battle to defend the fire service,” Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, told a rally of Suffolk firefighters and supporters on Thursday of last week.
There were delegations from as far afield as Northern Ireland on the 300-strong march in Ipswich, which drew applause from passers-by who were shocked by the cuts the fire authority is pushing ahead.
It plans to axe 12 jobs at Bury St Edmunds station, which runs one of only two turntable ladders in the county.
The significance of the strike action in Suffolk — which comes after a 68 percent yes vote — is that it is the first such action against the imposition of cuts since the 2002-3 pay dispute.
Across Britain fire authorities are drawing up local plans for fire cover, which are a direct result of the government doing away with national standards.
Most of those local plans involve cuts and the FBU in Suffolk is the first brigade to strike in response.
Vince Jell, chair of the FBU in Suffolk, appealed for support across the union for the battle.
“Collections and getting Suffolk firefighters on stations are now very important,” says Jim Brown from the FBU’s East Anglia region.
“It’s crucial to spread the message that we can resist, even in a small brigade like Suffolk.
“The government has just announced the locations for the new regional control centres that will replace brigade controls, leading to job cuts and a worse service.
“There are attacks on conditions underway in many brigades. We have to build up the confidence to take action.”