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Posted on 1 November 2010 at 16:36 GMT

London firefighters second strike day - all fire stations picketed and resolute

Despite the tirade of abuse against firefighters in the press in recent days, public support for pickets on the morning of their second strike day was high.

Paula Mitchell, London Socialist Party

At Plaistow in east London, at times it seemed like half the passing cars, vans and buses were supporting the strikers.

One firefighter explained: "The gutter press have been terrible - door-stepping firefighters and their families, going through their rubbish; lying that firefighters are greedy and after more money; making wild exaggerations about the fact that the 'four days on, four days off' shift patterns mean that some firefighters earn some extra money on their rest days.

"To be honest, if one or two of our guys have been trained as electricians or locksmiths, that's really helpful!

"They make out we're living a life of luxury because they've found one or two people with a house somewhere like Spain.

"The reality is that if firefighters don't live in London it's because it's so expensive. The London weighting we get helps us pay for really long journeys to work from other towns. My working day can be 16 hours when travel is included.

"What they don't tell you is that Gary Dobson, assistant commissioner, lives on the Isle of Wight! Why don't they put that in the press! Why don't they ask questions about the 'jobs for the boys'? AssetCo [the private company providing scab firefighters] courted Brian Coleman [chair of the London fire authority] to get the contract.

"Two former chiefs are on the board of directors. The other brigade that has a contract with AssetCo is Strathclyde - and the former chief at Strathclyde is also on their board!

Two things people need to know

"There's two things people need to know that are being ignored in the press. One is that the fire brigade has threatened to sack us. Like Birmingham council they are using a 'section 118' (referring to employment legislation) to sack the entire workforce and re-employ us on worse contracts.

"But section 118 is supposed to apply to redundancy when a private company goes bust. This needs to be challenged legally. Our jobs are not redundant.

"The other thing that's not being picked up is that Coleman said on the radio recently that he wanted to do to the firefighters what Thatcher did to the miners. He is out to break our union".

London firefighters answered bullying bosses with a massive vote for strike action. But the bosses have made it clear that this is a 'gloves-off' fight. In an indication of how brutal they are prepared to be, the London fire authority has prepared a scab workforce to try to break a legal strike, and has stolen 27 engines from stations.

The private firm AssetCo Fire and Rescue is being paid 12 million to provide civilians to operate a fire service during the strike.

The attempts at running a scab service on the first day of the strike were a farce. Firefighters mounted determined picket lines on fire stations but in many cases no scab crews turned up.

Bullying bosses

Pickets learned of scab engines spotted waiting in car parks, and being taken off the road due to the incompetence of drivers.

By the second strike day on 1st November, the ferocity of the bosses has been made clear. Firefighters mounted pickets at all 113 fire stations across London but also concentrated their efforts at a number of stations which have been targeted by fire bosses to be used by AssetCo.

Police, security guards and dogs have been used to try to enforce this strike-breaking.

Firefighters are giving the employees of AssetCo, many of them retired firefighters, a letter appealing to them not to scab:

"We urge you to respect our picket line, and not to cross it. By breaking our strike, you will be helping to put us out of a job, and our families will suffer as a result, as will Londoners.

"We appreciate that when you signed up for the Reliance/AssetCo project it was not made clear to you that you would be used to cross picket lines. It is not too late to change your mind, and we urge you to do so".

Nevertheless, the efforts of the fire authority bosses are a serious attempt to bring the Fire Brigades Union to its knees.

They are backed up by the government and Tory London mayor Boris Johnson, and national and London media.

Right-wing rags like the Mail and London Standard, as they do with the RMT union, have mounted an onslaught against the FBU, with outrageous accusations of intimidation and strong-arm tactics.

Bully Coleman appeared on Channel 4 news along with FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, claiming to want to meet to negotiate.

Bosses cowardly methods

He was forced on the programme to commit to meeting for negotiations at 9am the next morning - and then didn't turn up! The FBU should be back on the TV immediately exposing this man's bullying, cowardly methods and demanding the immediate withdrawal of the notices.

A serious response is required from the trade unions across London and wider. The trade union movement needs to go beyond supportive speeches and fundraising - important though these are - and take steps to develop real, properly-backed, solidarity action.

At the least, strikes by different groups of London workers should be coordinated. In an indication of the kind of solidarity that is necessary, many tube trains did not run during the 23 October FBU strike, as they would not be safe.

A solidarity meeting called by the public services committee of SERTUC (South east region TUC) aims to set up a solidarity committee.

This is something Socialist Party members through the Shop Stewards Network have argued for - for at least the 'willing' trade unions, such as FBU, PCS, RMT and CWU, to be able to discuss and properly prepare solidarity action.

Health and safety advice is necessary from the FBU to other unions. This could lay the ground for stoppages across the tube network, and prepare for workers refusing to work in public buildings, schools etc, with the backing of their unions, as they would not be safe in a fire service strike.

If the firefighters are sacked at the end of this month, that should be met with a London-wide solidarity strike.

This could be prepared for with a London demonstration of all trade unionists in support of the firefighters.

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