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Firefighters' pay: Strike Now For A Living Wage
THE FIRE Brigades Union recall conference meets on 12 September as we go to press. They will be voting on whether to call a strike ballot over pay. MARTIN REYNOLDS spoke to an east London firefighter about the origins of the dispute and the mood of firefighters.
WE WENT out on strike 25 years ago and won a pay formula which linked us to manual workers. But the relative drop in some manual workers' pay means that for the last 15 years we've been losing out. Now some firefighters have to claim benefits.
There's now a strong feeling for strike action. Before you come in the job you have an image of the fire brigade as a vocation, saving people's lives. But in the last strike we were out for weeks and we realised the government didn't give a gnats about what happened.
If we go out they have to try to provide fire cover. The police are quite good at showing people where to go but they're not much good at fire-fighting. The army have got one or two specialists but they're either abroad or waiting to go.
I know some soldiers who were being trained for the Green Goddesses and have already been taken off that to prepare for a possible war.
Without fire cover some things like railways and airports cease to be safe to run. I don't know what's going to happen to football matches and things like that. If they have a fire and there's no back-up, what will happen?
We have support from the rail and postal unions and the French trade unions on the Channel Tunnel.
We've also got public support, especially when people find out what our wages are now. A woman came to see the fire station with her grandson the other day. When she found out we are on £21,500 plus London Weighting, she said she employed secretaries on more than we get.
In the last few years the pay formula has resulted in us getting 3-4%, recently 1.5%. We're now being compared with shelf-stackers at Sainsbury's. Our job is dangerous and requires high standards of professionalism and training."
Firefighters are now in the front line of the struggle. Millions of workers realise that a victory for them would be mighty blow against low pay and would give a major boost to the struggle against privatisation, this pro-market government and the system it supports.
- Support the firefighters' strike for a decent living wage.
- For a one-day public sector pay strike.
- For a national demonstration in support of public services and against privatisation.
In The Socialist 13 September 2002: