The long running campaign by firefighters in Hertfordshire against plans to close two fire stations and axe up to 40 frontline jobs is set to enter a critical phase this week.
The FBU union in Herts had called for 48 hours of strike action starting from 6pm on Thursday this week. It has also demanded face to face negotiations with county councillors about the cuts.
This 48-hour strike follows a series of three eight hour strikes on 20, 26 and 31 May. Despite a high profile locally, these actions have failed to budge Herts fire authority from its determination to push through its cuts programme.
This dispute is of great national significance. It’s the first firefighters’ dispute where the government has refused army cover, which raises the stakes considerably.
Another factor is that Herts firefighters have strong support from the public, who understand the issue and understand what they might lose if these cuts go ahead.
It’s also the first dispute to my knowledge where the employers have threatened part time (or “retained”) firefighters and full timers at the same time.
Normally they attack the full timers first.
Then afterwards they go for the retained stations with a steady drip-drip programme of cutbacks to the part time service.
If Herts fire authority succeeds in pushing through these cuts, it will set a precedent for the rest of the country – especially rural areas where retained stations play a more prominent role in firefighting.
There are already local FBU campaigns in Northumberland and Cambridgeshire against similar cuts packages, which are being pushed through as part of the treasury’s Gershon review demand for “efficiency savings” in the public sector.
A lot of the Herts stations facing cuts are in the areas surrounding London.
Employers think they can save money by cutting local services and relying on London fire crews instead. Imagine if all the counties surrounding London took that attitude.
It’s good news that Herts firefighters are holding firm in their action and escalating the dispute to 48 hours. They need to keep up the pressure to win this dispute, for all our sakes.
The employers have refused to negotiate seriously. Their idea of an “offer” involves presenting the same proposals over and over again with minor modifications.
Now we need a strong show of support from the union nationally. We need a national demonstration called by the FBU that involves the wider public affected by these cuts.
This needs to be set for a time and place that can maximise public involvement.