Fire bosses locked out striking firefighters and control staff in Essex last week.
Workers began 29 hours of strikes over three days on Wednesday against job cuts and attacks on conditions.
But bosses locked the strikers out for a full three days without pay apparently citing “health and safety” reasons.
One firefighter told Socialist Worker, “This is a blatant attempt to undermine the action and their claim regarding health and safety is bollocks.
“They hope that the lockout will mean we won’t picket stations and that the public will remain unaware that there is a strike taking place.”
Fire bosses plan to axe at least 179 jobs—a 25 percent cut in full time firefighters. Numbers have already been slashed from 750 to 656 since 2010.
Seven control jobs went in Essex this week and other workers have been forced to go through interviews for their own jobs.
All catering jobs have gone at Chelmsford station—some people had worked there for 30 years.
Essex FBU union brigade chair Riccardo La Torre told Socialist Worker the strike was solid and underlined the significance of the dispute.
“This isn’t an Essex stand-alone fight—services all across the country are facing attacks as well,” he said.
Ever since the Tories came to office in 2010 over 5,000 frontline firefighter jobs have been cut—and more are expected to go.
“Bosses have made the shifts so unworkable that people will have to leave because they can’t work full time,” said Riccardo.
Another Essex firefighter said, “It seems to me a purely vindictive attempt by management to wear us down, and has a detrimental affect on firefighters’ morale.” But firefighters remain defiant.
“The lockout has only strengthened our resolve to strike and picket the stations,” one told Socialist Worker.
The FBU union has announced a recall conference on 10 February to discuss the union’s campaign over the Tories’ attacks on pensions.
General secretary Matt Wrack has outlined “key tasks” for the conference in a letter to members.
These include ensuring “the delivery of the ‘guarantee’ over No Job No Pension” and lobbying politicians in the run-up to the general election.
It also demands that Labour “pledges to change and improve pension arrangements” if it wins the May vote.
And it considers “further industrial action either alone or as part of a coordinated campaign with other unions”.
Firefighters have consistently shown they are up for the fight, striking over 30 times in the campaign.
But the latest walkouts have been few and far between.
Many firefighters, including the London FBU region, have called for a recall conference to hold the leadership to account.
The conference will be crucial to argue that only a serious programme of strikes will beat back the Tory attacks.
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