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Fire service cuts a double-edged sword
Firefighters and 999 controllers in Essex struck overnight on 13 and 14 June. The action was the latest in a long-running dispute over staffing cuts and shift changes.
The number of full-time firefighters in Essex has fallen from 958 in 1989 to about 600 today. Bosses plan a further reduction of 179. Still more cuts will come down the line as the brigade pursues "Project 2020", meant to cut hundreds more frontline jobs and "save" £15 million.
Employers are spinning the numbers. True, the number of fire appliances is the same as ever - but what use is that if there are not the personnel to take them out?
The nightmare scenario is a major incident such as a high-rise fire. What if there aren't enough firefighters to deal with it within established bounds of safe practice? On this money-versus-lives calculation, the vast majority of the public is understandably with the firefighters.
This dispute has been going on for well over a year. The brigade has already imposed shift changes on 999 control which have forced staff into part-time work, or even off the job.
While these issues alone are contentious enough, behind them lies the bosses' ambition to undermine the union. Or as it has been put by senior figures on the employers' side, "wrestle the sword off the FBU."
Fire bosses need to be careful they don't cut themselves.
In The Socialist 17 June 2015:
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