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From The Socialist newspaper, 26 August 2009

South Yorks firefighters plan industrial action

South Yorkshire firefighters could soon be taking strike action for the first time since the national dispute in 2002. They are angry at management's attempts to impose changes in shift patterns, especially longer day shifts of 12 hours, that would be detrimental to childcare and family life.

Alistair Tice

Since 17 June, Fire Brigade Union (FBU) members are, after a 3:1 vote for industrial action short of a strike, only working their contractual nine-hour shifts and refusing to work any pre-arranged overtime.

In response, the chief and deputy chief fire officers (DCFO), backed by the Labour-controlled fire authority, have threatened to sack 744 whole-time firefighters on 1 January 2010 if they do not sign up for the new shift patterns.

The DCFO Steve Swarbrick challenged the union to produce the evidence of these threatened mass sackings.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary said: "Managers, backed by councillors, are threatening to sack 744 firefighters. This decision was taken behind closed doors at a fire authority meeting from which the public and media were excluded.

"It is ridiculous for the fire authority to deny they are threatening to sack 744 firefighters. They have sent the union the formal signed notification setting those sackings out in detail."

The FBU are now consulting members at fire stations across South Yorkshire with a view to holding an official ballot for strike action. Yorkshire and Humberside executive committee member Jerry Pagan told The Socialist: "These imposed shift changes are the last straw in a long list of intimidation and heavy-handed bully-boy tactics by a South Yorkshire management who won't conduct proper meaningful negotiations."

A mass rally of firefighters has been called for Monday 28 September in Barnsley to mobilise national support for the South Yorkshire FBU with up to 1,000 expected. This dispute reflects increasing unrest amongst firefighters nationally as the government wants to make 200 million cuts and bullying management try to impose changes in conditions.

Essex and Humberside brigades have voted for industrial action short of a strike and London FBU have just begun a strict work to rule and overtime ban after a 91% vote in favour of action. Merseyside FBU gave the employers the required seven days notice of commencement of a strike ballot unless the fire authority reinstate sacked, victimised FBU official Kevin Hughes.

The New Labour government and fire service management seem to be preparing for a showdown with the FBU.

The Observer reported on 2 August: "Tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money is being awarded to the private sector to train non-firefighters to tackle blazes if the brigades are over-stretched or go on strike. The move has been condemned by unions as 'privatised strike-breaking', but is considered necessary in Whitehall because the army, which has previously provided cover during strikes, is overstretched fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"In the first contracts of their kind, a private company, AssetCo, based in Middlesex, has signed deals to provide emergency replacement cover if firefighters strike. A 12 million five-year deal with the London service will see up to 700 people from outside the service trained with basic emergency firefighting skills. The company has also signed a deal with the Lincolnshire brigade (which has threatened to sack 112 firefighters in February if they don't agree shift changes) and other regions are expected to follow London's lead."

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In The Socialist 26 August 2009:

Jobs and education not dole and debt

War and occupation

Afghanistan: Withdraw foreign troops

Socialist Party NHS campaign

No to health privatisation and 'the market'

Private Finance Initiative still threatens NHS future

Socialist Party campaign news

Vestas workers fight on

Ireland - workers campaign against Lisbon Treaty

Recession threat grows

Time to Fight Back: demonstrate at TUC conference

Socialist Party workplace news

Construction workers defending jobs and conditions

Postal strike reports

Fiddlers Ferry protest continues

South Yorks firefighters plan industrial action

Youth fight for jobs

No to Future Jobs Fraud scheme

Leaving education: comment

Youth Fight for Jobs action

Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Jobs campaign material

Socialist Party Marxist analysis

World recession, revolution and counter-revolution in Latin America

Socialist Party news and analysis

March shows growing opposition to far right BNP

Daventry: socialist candidate in council by-election

Passengers want publicly owned buses

Unison witchhunt

Unison witch-hunt/employment tribunal: The truth is coming out

Housing crisis

How safe are our houses?

Global Warming

Poorest suffer globally from climate change


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