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Firefighters continue with strike action
Following the solid national FBU strikes on 1st and 4th November, firefighters struck again on Wednesday 13th November, for four hours, as the latest stage in their battle against attacks on pensions.
The 20 FBU pickets at the Hartcliffe Way station were both determined and reconciled to the fact that with management playing hardball, an escalation of strike action is inevitable and necessary.
With Bristol City Council announcing a further £90 million cut to its budget and 1,000 job losses this week, everyone agreed that coordinated fightback action was needed and using colourful language some workers asked what the TUC was playing at in not initiating it. "I bet they would be keener if it was their pensions being slashed" was one of the more printable comments.
A welcome visitor to the picket line was Terry Walker, Chair of the Avon Fire Service. A local Labour MP in the 1970s, Terry brought support and made clear that despite his current position, he would always support the FBU.
It was left to Fred to sum up the workers' determination to secure decent conditions: "I'm here freezing my balls off today, so that when I'm a pensioner I'm not left freezing my balls off in an unheated house because my pension is rubbish".
East London Socialist Party members spoke to picketing firefighters at Silvertown, Stratford and Dagenham stations.
One firefighter at Silvertown commented on the government pushing the retirement age up to 60:
"My old man's 62 - and I know he couldn't be a firefighter now. They'll use it to find people not fit for the job then cut their pension.
"And they're privatising what they can in London - the fire engines are now owned by Asset Co and the training centres are now run by Babcocks".
Another picketer commented:
"We don't want to be out here but we have to. The management treat us like dirt, as if we're an inconvenience. You wouldn't think we save lives!"
All the firefighters at Leytonstone fire station were on strike today, reports Ian Pattison, which is set to lose a fire engine if Boris Johnson's vicious cuts go ahead. 14 firefighters joined the picket line.
One striker said:
"The government are trying to change firefighter pensions. Currently firefighters are on a pension where they can retire at the age of 50. The goverment are trying to change this to 60 and also increase our contributions. Firefighters currently pay 13% of their pay onto a pension, one of the largest amounts in the public sector.
"The government did a study that suggests around 90% of firefighters will fail a fitness test between the ages of 57 and 60. This means that firefighters would face the sack and only receive part of their pension. The strikes are after years of talks with the government who fail to listen to our side.
"We feel we have been left with no choice and that this is the only way to make ourselves heard."
Firefighters at Bow fire station were out in force on the picket line, with a brazier. Bow is one of the 10 fire stations in London threatened with closure so the mood was sombre, but just as determined as other stations.
Bow fire station pickets listening to LBC radio reports on the strike, photo by N Byron
Pickets were pleased with the publicity the shorter strikes are receiving, and the disruption to management. But they also thought the battle over pensions would be a long one, and were determined that they and their union should fight it all the way.
A lot of passing cars showed support by beeping.
One picket said the strike: "is not about pay, it's not about second jobs. I don't think the public know enough about the dispute yet, we're not asking for more pay, all we want is to be left alone.
"We signed a contract, we just want it to be honoured, otherwise there may as well be no contract. They've got their priorities all wrong ... it would only take £34 million to keep the 10 fire stations open".
Striking firefighters at Bethnal Green station, photo by N Byron
Pickets at Bethnal Green fire station were also solid, talking about how to build public support and involve newer union members more in the strike.
Eleven firefighters have signed up to support the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
Visiting the FBU picket line at the Thornhill, Southampton station it was very clear how committed and determined the members are.
One worker commented: "They are committed to pushing through their attacks on us so I am here because I will not give up without a fight. Our pensions are our deferred pay that we have contributed to, it's not a benefit".
The support given by the passing public was very obvious with lots of tooting of horns and thumbs raised. A passing cyclist stopped to talk to the pickets and praised them in their action.
Swansea trades council statement
A public statement from Swansea Trades Council, expressing support for Mid and West Wales FBU members and calling on the Fire Authority to reject £4.1 million of cuts to fire and rescue services.
Reject these devastating cuts to local fire and rescue services
Swansea Trades Council calls on the members of the Mid and West Wales Fire Authority to reject the measures currently being considered as part of £4.1 million of cuts to fire and rescue services.
We believe that our colleagues in the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) are correct in their assessment of the effect of making these cuts as 'devastating'.
Shutting, merging and downgrading of stations, leading to loss of vehicles, will inevitably increase response times. Proposals on staffing threaten a loss of experience and skill, along with the loss of full time jobs.
The proposal to force firefighters to work up to 96-hour shifts (a plan that has already been imposed in parts of the brigade) is extremely concerning. How can levels of concentration and energy be the same at the end of a four-day shift? It would be like starting work on Boxing Day and finishing on New Year's Eve.
We ask the members of the Fire Authority to reject these cuts and instead to demand the resources necessary to maintain all vital fire and rescue services to at least the level they are now, if not improve them. Surely councillors don't want to be associated with cuts that threaten lives?
The FBU is currently in dispute with the government over attacks on pensions. As well as being an attack on firefighters' incomes, the government's proposals on pensions threaten public safety, by making firefighters work longer.
The FBU has always said that they are fighting cuts to the service as well as attacks on pensions. The cuts being considered locally are devastating.
Swansea Trades Council invites all local trade unionists to join us in calling on the Fire Authority to reject these cuts and in recording our support for Mid and West Wales FBU members.
Ronnie Job, secretary, Swansea Trades Council
For further information about Swansea Trades Council e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07963 454041
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 13 November 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.