Merseyside firefighters are engaged in a bitter and very important strike.
Some 1,000 members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have extended their strike action by eight days - to 16 days - in their battle against cuts to the fire service and attempts to break the union.
The dispute on Merseyside was sparked by fire authority plans to save £3.5 million by axing 120 frontline firefighter posts - some one in ten of the workforce - along with four night-time fire engines and 15 emergency control jobs.
Underlying the dispute is a vicious battle between Merseyside’s chief fire officer, Tony McGuirk, and the workforce. McGuirk is determined to break the FBU on Merseyside and restructure the fire service along neo-
A national demonstration called by the FBU on Friday of last week saw 8,000 firefighters and supporters march through Liverpool.
There was an air of defiance on the march, buoyed by the turnout and the support from the general public. FBU delegations came from across Britain.
The rally was addressed by four union general
secretaries - the FBU’s Matt Wrack, Bob Crow of the RMT, Billy Hayes of the CWU and Tony Woodley of the T&G.
Billy Hayes urged strikers not to accept claims that the cuts were financially necessary. “They never say we cannot go to war because we’ve got no money,” he said.
There were messages of support from PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, George Galloway MP, John McDonnell MP and Joe Anderson, leader of the Labour opposition group in Liverpool City Council.
But firefighters expressed anger at the Labour councillors who run the Merseyside fire authority for dragging their feet over talks and failing to either sack McGuirk or bring him to heel.
McGuirk is widely despised by firefighters, who say he has instituted a regime of management bullying and union busting across the region.
He has set up a 170 strong strike breaking operation with former firefighters now in management or administrative roles and non union firefighters handpicked to form a “special rescue team”.
The militancy of the strike action reflects the anger of rank and file firefighters at their treatment over the past few years. “Everyone understands that the management are trying to break us - and that we have to win this dispute,” said one striker.
Negotiations between the authority and the union were taking place as Socialist Worker went to press. National negotiators from the FBU have been called in to mediate, in spite of initial attempts by the employers to refuse such a move.
Friday’s national demonstration has delivered a boost to the already high morale and determination of the striking firefighters. But if the fire authority does not back down, the FBU will have to escalate the action further.
FBU president Ruth Winters raised this possibility at last week’s rally, telling delegations they should be prepared to take national action in support of Merseyside. She also drew attention to the wider issues at stake. “We are politicising our members and they are politicising us - and that needs to continue,” she said, pledging that “members must be in control of this dispute”.
The strikers will need serious solidarity from across the trade union movement if they are to win this crucial battle for public services. Activists from across the country have been collecting money for the FBU’s hardship fund.
Richard Allday, a truck driver at Harwich Express in Essex, organised a workplace meeting that raised £90 for the strikers. Hertfordshire FBU, which struck against similar cuts earlier this year, has donated £12,500.
Send messages of support to Merseyside FBU, 50-54 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L3 5UN. Donations to Merseyside Hardship Fund, HSBC bank, sort code 40-29-28, account 91320165.