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Posted on 25 February 2015 at 16:32 GMT

FBU picket at Whitechapel firestation, London, 25.2.15, photo by Naomi Byron

FBU picket at Whitechapel firestation, London, 25.2.15, photo by Naomi Byron   (Click to enlarge)

Firefighters' strike and demo

Firefighters across England were on strike for 24 hours on Wednesday 25th February. They assembled to march and demonstrate in London together with other Fire Brigade Union members from across the UK.
The FBU's leaders have condemned government ministers for ignoring three written requests by the union in the last few weeks to meet to try to resolve the dispute.
Firefighters marching in London, 25.2.15, photo Sarah Wrack

Firefighters marching in London, 25.2.15, photo Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

'Liar, liar, pants on fire'

James Ivens

Striking firefighters made their feelings clear on 25 February - by hoisting flaming y-fronts in protest at Tory lies.
The day of very solid strike action culminated in thousands defying police, marching unannounced on parliament.
The union refused to pay for private ‘traffic management’ measures and blockaded the streets in protest.

"You bunch of mischief makers!" laughed Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). He was answering fire minister Penny Mordaunt, who he quoted as saying: "the FBU continues to cause mischief over pensions".

Mordaunt is responsible for legislation hiking firefighters' retirement age. She won the vote in parliament by telling MPs pensions would be guaranteed for firefighters found unfit due to age. But the law provides no such guarantee.

Matt was addressing 2,000 striking firefighters in Methodist Central Hall, opposite parliament. A further thousand were held outside due to lack of space.

The platform - sat before a tremendous church organ lit in red - included no fewer than three Labour MPs.

FBU rally, 25.2.15, photo Rob Williams

FBU rally, 25.2.15, photo Rob Williams   (Click to enlarge)

John McDonnell MP took up "mendacious" Mordaunt's dismissal of mass protests - she said they are "just the militants of the FBU". Pointing into the crowd, he declared: "If standing up for your rights is militant - I'm a militant, you're a militant, you're a militant!"

Ian Lavery MP recognised he could no longer say "vote Labour for vote Labour's sake", particularly after Tony Blair's attacks on firefighters' pay and conditions.

But his answer? Vote Labour! "Whether you're a member of the Socialist Party, Ukip, Labour or the Conservatives, I'm telling you there's only two people can be prime minister. David Cameron and Ed Miliband."

Firefighters demonstrate at Downing Street, 25.2.15, photo by Steve Score

Firefighters demonstrate at Downing Street, 25.2.15, photo by Steve Score   (Click to enlarge)

This is likely true. And 'Red Ed' did call for a vote against Mordaunt's pensions theft. But her attacks are based on proposals originally put by Labour - and earlier legislation backed by Labour.

And how long can even this feeble stance last, given Miliband has signed up wholesale to Tory spending plans? Labour has not even promised to reverse the increases in retirement age and pension contributions if in power after May.

This is why Kate Hoey MP said: "We want it in the manifesto!" The Socialist Party agrees. So how does she propose we achieve this? By weakly calling for firefighters to "demand much more that [MPs] listen".

But firefighters have taken strike action more than 50 times and launched mass lobbying! When it comes to the unions, Labour's hearing is selective to say the least.

If trade unions want their interests represented, they need to stand candidates accountable to them - not to big business. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) exists to allow just that.

TUSC banner on the firefighters' march, 25.2.15, photo Sarah Wrack

TUSC banner on the firefighters' march, 25.2.15, photo Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

Firefighters gave a standing ovation for victimised Buckinghamshire FBU member Ricky Matthews during the closing speech.

And Matt Wrack rightly condemned the Metropolitan Police's cuts-based decision to make organisers buy private security for demonstrations. "This union is not paying for the right to protest!" To prove it, he led 3,000-odd cheering firefighters to parliament and Downing Street.

FBU bagpipers played as strikers demanded an audience with Mordaunt and David Cameron.

Some wore foot-long Pinocchio noses. Two came forward in "FBU cleaning team" overalls and scoured the gates of parliament with sponge and toilet brush.

While some Labour MPs may scrub up well, they still go in and vote for cuts. That is why growing numbers of trade unionists - including firefighters - are looking to TUSC.

Firefighters demonstrating in London, 25.2.15, photo by Steve Score

Firefighters demonstrating in London, 25.2.15, photo by Steve Score   (Click to enlarge)

The FBU has said clearly to the government: guarantee firefighters’ pensions - or we are not afraid of action. The union's members will have renewed confidence in this battle following an excellent demonstration. Now the FBU needs to lay out an industrial and political strategy that can take this mood forward.


This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 25 February 2015 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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