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Firefighters’ pay strikes can build wider revolt + PCS action + university strikes

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Plus the latest news from the PCS and UCU battles
Issue 2841
Firefighters in brown-yellow uniforms on a march

Firefighters rallied in London ahead of the strike vote (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Firefighters and control room staff could announce strikes from as early as Thursday of this week, after becoming the latest workers to join the pay revolt.

In a ballot that ended on Monday of last week members of the FBU union voted by 88 percent to strike, on a turnout of 73 percent. Union leaders said they would give fire brigade bosses until Thursday of this week to respond.

Fire brigade bosses have offered a pay increase of just 5 percent—less than half the rate of inflation.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said the result was “an overwhelming vote for strike action against an offer which would mean further significant cuts to real terms wages for firefighters and control room staff.”

“Firefighters were among Britain’s Covid heroes who kept frontline services going during the pandemic,” said Wrack. “With inflation and energy bills rocketing, they are now increasingly struggling to pay the bills or to afford the basics.”

And, with fire authorities’ funding ultimately coming from the government, he laid the blame at Tory prime minister Rishi Sunak’s feet. “The government has refused to make funding available for a decent pay offer to firefighters and control staff,” Wrack said.

He added that Sunak and fire bosses have “the power to stop strikes by making a credible offer”.

FBU members shouldn’t accept anything less than a pay deal at least in line with inflation—currently at 13.4 percent.

The best way to win that is by joining the growing numbers of workers fighting over pay—by calling hard-hitting strikes immediately.

Group of PCS union pickets with purple union placards with slogans such as "courts in crisis"

Pickets in Manchester on Monday where PCS members struck over HMCTS’s flawed IT Common Platform.
system (Picture: PCS on Twitter)

Back PCS strikes and push for more national action

Workers at the British Museum, the Border Force, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) are all set to strike next week.

The action, by members of the PCS union, is part of a fight over pay, pensions and jobs across the whole of the civil service.

British Museum workers are set to strike between Monday and Sunday of next week, and Border Force workers from Friday of next week until Monday 20th. The action at both is aimed at causing disruption during the school half term holiday.

Meanwhile, workers at the Animal and Plant Health Agency in Bristol and Carlisle are set to strike from Monday to Friday of next week. And again from Monday 20 to Friday 24 February.

Output Services Group workers at DVLA offices in Ty Felin and Swansea are also set to strike between Monday and Friday of next week.

The strikes are part of a plan of rolling, targeted action that union leaders say is designed to cause maximum disruption to the government while limiting the cost to workers.

But, though widely supported, it hasn’t been enough to make the government budge at all. Strikes across the whole of the civil service last week show tens of thousands of PCS members—especially new, younger members—are keen to take more.

They can win with longer strikes, all out together.

Make the university workers’ strikes bite 

University workers in the UCU union have voted by 80 percent to reject the latest pay offer from employer body Ucea.

The electronic ballot was open for four days with tens of thousands of UCU members spurning the 5 percent offer.

The union has confirmed that 18 days of strikes “will resume and continue through February and March unless a much-improved pay offer is made alongside commitments on workload and casualisation”.

Strikes were set for Thursday and Friday this week and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week—and then further action. But there has been far too little serious organisation around building strikes.

The UCU Left organsation said, “Our general secretary worked hard to scupper the possibility of indefinite action and proposed much less action than was eventually decided.

“Rather than concentrate on how to use our existing strike mandate to the maximum effect, she is concentrating on a reballot and peddling the illusion that winning a ballot might be enough to shift the employers.

“We have to use the 18 days in the run up to a planned marking and assessment boycott in April and any further strikes.”

It called for actions including “regional and national demonstrations” as well as “real attempts by our union to lead the charge for coordination”.

  • For the full strike dates go here

Resistance round-up

Workers at social housing landlord Magenta Living in the Wirral, Merseyside, are striking over safety. New working practices will expose the 100 workers to asbestos.

They are employed in repairs and maintenance roles for the company that manages 13,000 properties. Previously the Unite union members would stop work when asbestos was detected and specialists would be brought in.

Now workers would have to work with the asbestos—a dangerous material. Strikes began on Monday and are set to continue for a week. Action is planned until 17 April.

  • Strikes by parking enforcement officers across Hounslow, west London, began on Monday and are set to continue until 5 March.

The workers, employed by outsourcer Serco on behalf of Hounslow Borough Council, have not been offered a pay rise above the London living wage.

Serco workers in neighbouring Ealing and in Brent won better deals recently. The Unite union should have kept the three workforces on strike together to win for all.

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