Firefighters rally against cuts

Neil Cafferky

Firefighters will assemble in London on 16 October to demonstrate against changes to pensions and cuts to the fire service.

FBU members in England and Wales took strike action on 17 September for four hours in defence of their current pension arrangement.

These attacks include raising the retirement age. As the FBU points out: The employers’ “own evidence shows that making firefighters work beyond 55 puts both public and firefighters’ safety at risk.”

The effects of the coalition’s austerity policies have borne down hard on the fire service. Since this government took office, 3,600 firefighter jobs have been cut.

Control rooms have been merged and vital professionals have been removed. Numerous local stations across the country are in line for closure, despite vigorous opposition from the communities they are based in.

Many stations that are to remain open have had pumps removed, reducing the effectiveness of the service.

These changes are not just a worsening of firefighters’ conditions and safety standards but also a threat to public safety.

This is well understood by working people and explains the support that exists for firefighters taking action, either in campaigns to save stations or during strikes.

Understandably firefighters are very reluctant to strike, but the intransigence of the government has left them with little option.

But FBU members should take heart that they are not the only group of workers taking action in defence of their conditions.

The Public and Commercial Services union still has a live ballot. The teaching unions NUT and NASUWT are currently engaged in rolling strike action across the country.

Members from the UCU, Unison and Unite in higher education are currently balloting for strike action, as is the probation officers’ union NAPO.

There was clearly a mood for coordinated action on the FBU picket lines in September. As well as pursuing the individual campaigns, these unions’ strategy must include coordination.

Also calling on the TUC to name the date for a 24-hour general strike would be a powerful blow against the government’s cuts programme.