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London firefighters ballot for action
Around 1,000 firefighters poured into a mass meeting of the London Fire Brigades Union (FBU) on 24 August. They gathered to discuss the union's strategy in response to the London Fire Authority's (LFA) attempt to rip up their contracts.
The LFA is proposing to sack 5,557 firefighters and re-employ them on worse terms and conditions. At the moment firefighters work a nine-hour day shift and a 15-hour night shift. LFA bosses want to change this to two equal 12-hour shifts. Expected upshots following this change are fire stations closing, fire engines removed from night-time service and even cuts in frontline staff.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, outlined the political context of the dispute. To loud applause and shouts of approval, Matt declared that firefighters had not caused the economic crisis and they were not going to pay for the consequences.
Ian Leahair, FBU national executive member for London, took the floor to explain the union's strategy to go from lobbies, to action short of a strike and then strike action. The first ballot will close on 17 September. Action following this ballot could begin as early as 24 September. The day before the ballot closes, on 16 September, the FBU will hold a lobby of the London Fire Authority.
If there is no progress by 6 September, the union will give seven days notice of its intention to ballot members for strike action. The ballot result will be out in the week beginning 11 October. Ian Leahair pledged that once the ballot process begins it will not be called off, short of management withdrawing their threat to sack firefighters.
He also promised, to loud applause, that any deal reached with management would be in writing with the final say on whether to accept or reject it resting with the London membership.
There were two guest speakers on the platform. One was Labour MP John McDonnell, the convenor of the FBU parliamentary group. The other was Socialist Party and Unite member Suzanne Muna, representing the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN).
Suzanne spoke about the purpose of the NSSN, to bring together grassroots union activists in their common struggle to defend the working conditions and living standards of working people.
Commenting on the refusal of some union leaders to organise a fightback, Suzanne raised the NSSN lobby of the TUC conference in Manchester on 12 September.
The aim of the lobby will be to push the TUC to organise a national demonstration against cuts. This proposal was greeted with enthusiastic applause by firefighters. By the end of the meeting the huge wedge of leaflets NSSN supporters had brought along had all gone.
If even a fraction of the energy, determination and militancy that was present at this meeting can be transferred to Manchester it should be a very good lobby indeed.
In The Socialist 1 September 2010:
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news
Socialist Party workplace news