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Strikes sweep across Yorkshire
"Three strikes and we're out" was the front page headline of the anti-union local paper, the Sheffield Star, above a photo-montage of firefighters, busdrivers and posties, all on strike in Sheffield last Friday.
A grievance common to all three disputes is management bullying. In fact Sheffield First busdrivers have now taken three of four scheduled strike days specifically over disciplinary procedure issues at the Olive Grove depot. How strongly the drivers feel about this was reflected in the 437-39 vote to go ahead with the strikes.
The union wants seven recent disciplinary cases to be reviewed and a watertight disciplinary procedure so that the management can't just do whatever they like. Union reps report that before the strike they were dealing with 10-20 disciplinary cases a week with three or four dismissals.
Unfortunately two planned South Yorkshire-wide strikes over pay were suspended after First increased their offer to 3% for next year, but still with no pay rise this year (despite over £130 million profit). For a second time the union negotiating committee were split in recommending the deal be put to a workplace ballot. Hopefully, Unite members will throw this 'offer' out as well, and rejoin First bus drivers in Manchester and Essex already taking strike action against the company imposed pay-freeze.
Around 700 South Yorkshire Fire Brigade Union (FBU) members took part in two 24 hour strikes last week to defeat the chief fire officer and Labour controlled fire authority plans to impose shift changes under threat of mass dismissals. A further five consecutive days of eight-hour strikes have been called from next weekend.
Al, a young Sheffield firefighter, explains why he is supporting the strike.
"I have a nine month old son and a 12-hour shift system would mean that I wouldn't see my son at all for two consecutive days. Make no bones about it, a 12-hour shift system is not family friendly...
Now they propose to sack 744 firefighters and re-employ them under new contracts to suit only one party, the management... If my contract can be so easily broken then what's the point in having a contract to start with? If we let our contracts be altered without a fight, then the next time our senior management want to change something in our contracts, the floodgates will already have been opened.
Moving to a 12-hour shift system would make it easy to reduce fire cover for 'quiet' geographical areas at night, thus saving money.
It's no secret that the Labour government and the Conservatives are going to reduce/cap funding to many public services if they are elected at the next general election... I would like to reassure the public that your firefighters are taking strike action to protect our contracts, protect our family life and protect the public we serve and care about."
In The Socialist 28 October 2009:
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party reviews