Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/14799
Essex FBU strike back at bullyboy management
Since 2008 the Essex Fire Authority has been set on a course of aggressive confrontation with the FBU union, and wholly unnecessary cuts in frontline services.
On Thursday 28 June this resulted in an eight-hour strike by fire crews across the county.
There was solid support for the action both from FBU members and the public. Retained firefighters joined their full-time co-workers on well-attended picket lines on every station in Essex.
The mood was positive and determined, boosted by the constant hooting of passing motorists expressing their support.
This dispute is not about pay or even budget cuts. The Fire Authority's budget has increased by £7 million since 2008, yet it has underspent £1.6 million on its frontline staffing budget, allowing the authority to build up reserves of £12 million.
If current plans are carried through there will have been a loss of 20% in frontline staffing and already emergency response times have increased by over a minute.
This may not seem long if you are sitting in a boardroom, but if you are in a burning house it might just be the rest of your life.
The cuts in frontline services have gone alongside a belligerent attitude from the employer towards the union.
The Fire Authority has unilaterally pulled out of a host of consultative bodies within the county, has withdrawn facilities for union meetings, and has attempted to discipline large numbers of frontline firefighters for speaking out about the attacks on the service.
There is wild talk from fire officers of firefighters plotting to vandalise their own stations and equipment and Socialist Party agitators fomenting disorder.
A "resilience team" has been recruited to break the strike and 12 secret locations have been prepared from which it will operate. Any fire fighter using the "S" word will be disciplined.
At first glance the antics of the Essex Fire Authority seem just plain crazy, however there may be method in their madness.
Essex FBU has a proud record of being well organised and standing up for its members and the safety of the public.
At the same time the employer, Essex County Council, is solidly Tory, despite the recent jailing of its leader, Lord Hanningfield, for corruption.
Union busters may think that this would be the one place they could maintain political support for an attempt to weaken a key section of the FBU.
They would be mistaken. The success of the strike has already forced fire chiefs back into negotiation. The FBU must keep up the pressure until they get a clear win.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 3 July 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.