The Socialist 21 September 2006 |
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Merseyside firefighters take to the streets
ONE THOUSAND firefighters and their supporters marched through
Liverpool on 15 September to a rally in the city centre. This was in
response to a national call for solidarity with striking Merseyside
firefighters from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
This demonstration took place during the second eight-day strike by
local firefighters in defence of jobs and against cuts.
Merseyside Fire Authority have made it plain that they want £3.5
million worth of cuts.
This means the loss of 120 firefighters' jobs (1 in 10 of the
They want to do away with four night-time fire engines and introduce
a 96-hour week in some fire stations, plus cut 15 posts in the emergency
An August ballot saw firefighters vote 3 to 1 for strike action to
defeat these cuts. The first and now second "eight-dayer" has been
forced on firefighters by a bloody-minded management. The fire authority
cannot justify the cuts but are determined to implement them - come what
They have offered scabs a 50% pay increase to provide "cover" to
break the strike - so much for their concern about saving money.
Les Skarratts, brigade secretary, Merseyside FBU said: "We have
tremendous support from a public which has rumbled managers who claim
they can improve a public service by cutting it".
The local press, the willing mouthpiece of the bosses, carry major
articles high-lighting the fire authority's point of view, in particular
their claim that the public are actually safer with the firefighters on
Bob Crow, general secretary of rail union RMT, speaking at the rally
echoed the sentiments of all by quoting an old trade union 'truism': "An
injury to one is an in injury to all".
This may be a local confrontation but it has national ramifications.
Since 2003, fire authorities have felt able to attack one local fire and
emergency service after another, such as Hertford earlier this year.
Bob Crow went on to say that the TUC and other trade union leaders
had to give more, much more, than verbal support to the Merseyside
The applause reflected the recognition that the confrontation on
Merseyside, and the first in a major metropolitan area, has become a
show of strength by management into how to implement cuts.
In turn this requires a national response by the union to counter the
managements' own strategy of "divide and rule": to stop their plan for
the future of the fire and emergency services in Britain - that is
"death by a 1,000 cuts".
Addressing the rally, Les Skarratts expressed his disgust at the fact
that they faced a vicious attack by a Labour-controlled, and
Labour-chaired, fire authority.
The vast majority there needed little convincing that New Labour,
Lib-Dems, and the Tories were now all the same.
Our leaflets expressing the need to campaign for a new mass
alternative to New Labour, for real political representation for working
people, were therefore well-received.