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Support The Firefighters
THE VERY lively protest in London by thousands of firefighters on 2 September revealed their determination to win their pay claim. But it also reflects a wider militancy amongst public sector workers, who are no longer prepared to tolerate low pay, cuts and privatisation.
Firefighters could be striking for the first time in 25 years following the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) rejection of management's paltry 4% pay offer.
Up to 30 brigades, including those in the South-West, Derbyshire, Norfolk, Leicestershire, Northants, Suffolk and Bedfordshire have began unofficial action, answering emergency calls only.
To the resounding approval of the mass of firefighters and their families protesting outside the pay talks, FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist said: "Be very clear - the executive council are recommending national strike action."
Rousing cheers greeted CWU general secretary Billy Hayes' pledge that no postal worker would cross an FBU picket line. Hayes also demanded to know why the government could afford to go to war but not pay workers decent wages.
Strike action is no rash decision. Decades of under funding, chronic understaffing and low pay have compelled dedicated workers to take action.
A fully qualified firefighter earns £21,500 and many have to work unpaid overtime to cover under-crewing.
The current pay formula was negotiated in 1977, after the last national firefighters' strike. Since then there has been a massive increase in the number and complexity of calls and an erosion of wage rates. Many firefighters now have to claim state benefits to survive.
Management say they accept the current pay formula needs reviewing but for months refused to make any offer. Now they insist the derisory pay offer is linked to 'modernisation' and operational changes.
Firefighters and Emergency Fire Control Staff are determined to see the battle for decent pay through to the end. Opinion polls show they have the overwhelming support of the public.
Management claim lives will be put at risk if firefighters take industrial action. But responsibility for any strike rests with an intransigent management trying to get a vital service on the cheap.
The FBU recall national conference on 12 September will be recommending a strike ballot. Given the huge public support the full £30,000 claim can be won, inspiring other public-sector workers.
The FBU should approach other public sector unions, such as the CWU, UNISON, and the rail and teaching unions, about a one-day public sector strike against low pay.
- For the full Fire Brigades Union pay claim
- For a one-day public sector strike against low pay
In The Socialist 6 September 2002: