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From The Socialist newspaper, 30 September 2009

Mass rally in support of South Yorkshire firefighters

Around 2,000 fire-fighters from all around the UK marched in Barnsley on Monday 28 September in solidarity with their Fire Brigade Union (FBU) comrades in South Yorkshire who are on the verge of taking strike action.

South Yorkshire chief fire officer (CFO), Mark Smitherman, wants to impose shift changes under threat of mass dismissals and re-engagement on new contracts. Already taking industrial action short of a strike, South Yorkshire FBU members have now voted 83% in favour of a strike on a 79% turnout.

Firefighters chanted a loud message of defiance to the CFO and the Labour fire authority outside their meeting: "Smitherman Out!" and "1,500 - Stuff it up your arse!" (referring to the one-off bribe just offered to buy the shift changes).

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack told the rally: "In 2007, South Yorkshire firefighters were praised for their heroism during the floods. Just two years later, Smitherman is calling you 'donkeys' and threatening to sack you all.

"Smitherman says that it's just a 'minor change' but they want 12-hour shifts now to attack night cover further down the line. The fire authority claim it's about 'efficiency savings', but we have just heard today that their package will be funded by 39 job losses! This is a cuts agenda."

If Smitherman thought that the FBU didn't have the stomach for a fight, then "try ignoring the FBU now" said Yorks and Humber FBU executive member Jerry Pagan.

Essex, London and Merseyside brigades are also taking action over cuts, so if the South Yorkshire strike goes ahead, it will be a battle for the whole union that it can't afford to lose.

Matt Wrack concluded by saying that the union has called an emergency national meeting of brigade officials on 8 October to support South Yorkshire and if necessary will recall the union national conference.

Alistair Tice

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In The Socialist 30 September 2009:

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