Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/644/10511
Victory to London firefighters!
London firefighters were on strike for eight hours on 23 October, against changes in shift patterns which will pave the way for cuts. The bosses prepared a scab workforce to try to break a legal strike, and stole 27 engines from stations. London is normally served by 169 engines.
A private firm, AssetCo Fire and Rescue, is being paid £12 million to provide civilians to operate a fire service during the strike. This private company has a seven-year contract to provide an "emergency fire crew capability service" in London in the event of terrorist attacks, flooding or a pandemic. This in itself is an outrageous start of privatisation of essential services.
The provision of such vital services should not be a source of profit but should be publicly funded and democratically controlled. But now, as the FBU warned would be the case when the contract was started, this is being used as a scab force.
This approach by bosses requires a serious response from the trade unions across London. In an indication of the kind of solidarity that is necessary, the RMT is backing its members who stop trains and close stations during a fire service strike, as they would not be safe.
A support and solidarity group has been established through the public services committee of the South East Region TUC. We need to ensure this goes beyond supportive speeches and fund-raising - important though these are - and takes steps to develop real, properly backed, solidarity action from other trade unions.
- The next strikes are scheduled for 1 November and 5-7 November. Workers on London Underground will also be striking on 2 November, against job cuts and attacks on tube maintenance.
Solidarity at Homerton
In a true show of unity, firefighters from every watch came in to Homerton station on the morning of the first day of the London-wide strike.
Workers were waving FBU flags and they received plenty of support from locals who passed the station, and nearly every car that passed gave a supportive honk. The strikers applauded as FBU rep Karl Haider read out messages of solidarity from other local unions.
Homerton was one of the 27 stations around London which was expected to be a base for AssetCo scabs, which only added to the strength of feeling on the picket line. As it happened no scab crews turned up, with stories being passed on to the workers that some engines had been spotted waiting in a supermarket car park, while others had been seen driving round the streets waiting to be called on! Later reports suggested at least three engines had to be taken off the road due to the incompetence of those driving them.
The workers were in a determined mood, ready to fight against the attacks on their working conditions as well as attacks on their union itself.
Tackling bullying bosses
"London Fire Brigade Commissioner Mr Dobson and his principal managers have acted like playground bullies since the start of this dispute.
"They've refused to negotiate seriously, they've threatened firefighters in attempts to get them to work outside their contracts, they've threatened to sack the whole workforce in order to get their way and now they've unilaterally removed fire engines from operational fire stations, making Londoners less safe from fires, and all the other emergencies routinely attended by firefighters.
"I'm glad that the membership of the Fire Brigades Union are prepared to stand up to the bullies. Right now the FBU and striking firefighters are the only thing standing in the way of cuts to London's fire cover."
Steve White, FBU Poplar
"On 15 October 2010 the Commissioner for London Fire Brigade sent FBU members letters threatening to make unlawful deductions from salaries of up to 60% of pay, for working in accordance with their contracts of employment.
"The threats of unlawful pay deductions now compel members to work compulsory overtime for an indefinite period without agreement.
"It is threats and bullying like this and the threat of mass sackings that have forced firefighters to vote in favour of strike action, but this can all be resolved tomorrow if the LFB withdraws the threat to sack firefighters and instead commits to negotiating a collective agreement which the FBU are committed to achieving."
Ian Leahair, FBU executive council member for London
In The Socialist 27 October 2010:
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news