25 September 2013
Firefighters in England and Wales will strike for 4 hours on Wednesday. This comes after our 4 to 1 strike ballot result and 2 years of negotiations which have got us nowhere. The immediate issue is pensions. The government wants firefighters to work until 60, despite the government’s own report showing that up to 80% will be unable to maintain the required fitness levels and therefore face being sacked without immediate access to a pension which will be reduced by up to half. However, underlying this attack is years of cuts in our service and a 3 year pay freeze. The defence of our service is bound up with the defence of our conditions as both are being attacked because of government underfunding. Consequently, this is a political fight against the government and the employers for a fully funded fire service staffed with firefighters on decent pay and conditions. This demand unites us with the millions of workers in the public and private sectors who have had enough of Tory austerity and feel it’s time to fight back.
Many firefighters believe that the 4 hour strike must be followed up with longer and harder hitting strike action, which includes Scotland. Scottish firefighters are not taking strike action because Holyrood has offered revised and slightly better proposals to them. The SNP government which is tacking to the left of Labour to win votes for independence is keen not to be seen towing the Westminster line and not to be portrayed as Tartan Tories prepared to smash hard working and popular firefighters. London Region FBU has issued a statement demanding Scotland should not be allowed to negotiate a separate deal as this would place a ceiling on what could be achieved in England and Wales and divides the national union. This will set a dangerous precedent for the future.
The task for firefighters now is to make Wednesday’s strike as strong as possible, demand our union leaders call further strikes which include Scotland to win and develop rank and file networks inside the union which can strengthen union organisation on the ground and reach out to the wider trade union and workers movement. Solidarity is the key. FBU members’ confidence is very uneven and any support received from other workers can help build it. In Clapham in south London an active and vibrant campaign between local firefighters, workers and the community, with Unite the Resistance at its heart helped to save the fire station from closure. We need to copy this example everywhere. This autumn the potential exists for co-ordinated strikes with postal workers and teachers, we should demand our union leaders call this action and we can begin the process ourselves by getting down to firefighters picket lines on Wednesday and showing our support. Millions of people are sick to the back teeth of the attacks on our jobs, our services and the welfare state. It is time to link all the struggles into a single fightback which can stop the attacks, topple the Tories and raise the potential for a fairer more just society. Solidarity is strength – victory to the workers.
Dowgate FBU branch chair (pc)