London lobby of fire authority, 21 January 2013, photo by Neil Cafferky

London lobby of fire authority, 21 January 2013, photo by Neil Cafferky   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

‘You won’t see an investment banker with a hose’

Paula Mitchell

Over 1,000 firefighters shouted, jeered and blew horns outside the head office of the London authority as the fire bosses inside debated whether to close 12 fire stations in London and remove a further 18 engines, cutting 520 jobs and putting the lives of millions of Londoners and visitors in jeopardy.

It was pointed out by several firefighters and speakers that the first fire crew to arrive on the scene of the Vauxhall helicopter crash was from Clapham, a station earmarked for closure.

Similarly a fire at Victoria was responded to by a station they want to close. In fact every one of the fires in London last week were responded to by apparently unnecessary fire crews!

London lobby of fire authority, 21 January 2013, photo by Neil Cafferky

London lobby of fire authority, 21 January 2013, photo by Neil Cafferky   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

The depth of this scandal was shown by a representative of the tenants association at Lakanal House – the tower block in Southwark where six people died in a horrific fire in 2009, into which the inquest has just opened. An engine is to be removed from the station opposite that estate.

Firefighters want support and welcomed several Labour politicians who spoke to the lobby. At the last London Assembly elections Labour’s Andrew Dismore defeated hated Tory chair of the fire authority Brian Coleman, with the support of the FBU.

To applause he pledged that the Labour representatives on the fire authority would vote against all closures and cuts.

However he also said that “there is money in the GLA that can be moved around to save the service”, which unfortunately could imply that cuts in other public services would be acceptable.

The West Yorkshire FBU secretary gave the lessons of their own fight against station closures: “And I have to say these were cuts by a Labour fire authority – shame on them!”

The biggest applause was for RMT general secretary Bob Crow, who said in reference to the bank bailouts, “you won’t see an investment banker with a hose”! The crowd cheered when he said that apart from a few honourable exceptions, Labour has been “miserable and disgraceful”; they roared when he called for a one day general strike.

This call was backed up by Socialist Party member Martin Powell-Davies of the teachers’ union NUT executive, who called for unions to coordinate action into a 24-hour general strike.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack rounded off the rally. He pointed out that the cut in the top rate of tax for the richest people would more than pay for a quality fire service:

“The Treasury are handing the rich £3 billion, and the cost of the fire service is £3 billion. So don’t say there’s no money!”.

He called on all members to go back and prepare for a fight.

Following the meeting and demo:

Fire station closure plans rejected in vote

Following the above meeting of the London Fire Authority, taking place under the pressure of 1,000 firefighters demonstrating outside, the BBC reports that after a “fierce debate”, the cuts proposals were rejected by a 9-8 vote.

However, Tory London mayor Boris Johnson, “who has ultimate power over the fire authority”, said he will “ensure” the consultation over the cuts continues.

Clearly fuming at this victory for the opposition to the cuts plans, Johnson threatened: “I am of course always willing to listen to submissions, but it’s quite clear today’s decision offers nothing positive, indeed it demonstrates a complete lack of leadership … This consultation will continue as planned. I will be issuing a mayoral directive to ensure it does”.

See also: Save London’s Fire Service

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 21 January 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.