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FBU strike: Determination to force the government back
Firefighters were on strike on 1 and 4 November across England and Wales. Between the two strikes fire minister Brandon Lewis wrote to the FBU effectively worsening his offer on pensions. He made it clear that fire authorities would start the process of sacking older firefighters unfit for the job.
Firefighters would face the 'choice' of being sacked or leaving with a much reduced pension. At the same time firefighters are having to pay large increases in their pension contributions, pricing some out of the scheme altogether.
The strikes were solid and gained a lot of public support. The next strike has been announced for 13 November from 10am-2pm.
Over 30 joined the picket line in Gipton, Leeds, as firefighters walked out at 6.30pm on Friday 1st November to be joined by fellow FBU members who were off duty.
Pickets were incensed over the government's attempts to increase their retirement age. But, just like many other workers in dispute, this is not the only attack they are facing.
The Labour-led local fire authority has voted through successive cuts packages which include closing a whole number of stations including Gipton and replacing several by stations in mid points between them.
But as pickets explained, this will make the new stations further away from the highest risk areas where there have been several fires this year that they have only just got to in time.
The last few years have also seen a drip-drip series of cuts, removing roles such as cooks and clerks and throwing that work onto firefighters who then have less time to drill and go out and fight fires.
Pickets here were in a hardened mood and were angry that action had been called off last week; as one picket put it: 'It shows weakness and sends the wrong message'.
But with today's strike and Monday's coming up they are determined to take whatever action is necessary to force the government and employers back.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
Socialist Party reporters spoke to Paul Davies (Salford FBU secretary), Paul Nugent (Chair) and Dave Allsey:
Paul N: "The last strike was called off because the employers wrote to the FBU saying they needed to consult with each individual fire authority but there's been no movement since then regarding any changes to pensions.
"Due to budget cuts, with 400 posts lost in Greater Manchester over the last six years, we're very thin on the ground, which means that there's no jobs to redeploy people to if they fail a medical, all possible posts are now done by civilians".
Dave: "It's across the board, not just the fire service, it's an ideological attack on the public services, now there's a financial crisis, and not just in this country either, it's a global attack onto the public sector, they're attacking everybody".
A quarter of an hour into the strike a fire engine crawled out of the station and set off with its blue light on, to boos and shouts of 'scab'. We noticed a manager's car following.
Paul D: "Those lads who've just turned out, they've had a week's training, it could be anything, and they're followed by one of the managers to check on what they do. It's not a good situation".
The next step? Paul D: "We need to take some coordinated action with other trade unions. I'll say it, we need a national, a general strike, that would be a good thing to try and organise, and the next logical step, I think".
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 1 November 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.