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From: The Socialist issue 848, 18 March 2015: Fight for 10 an hour!

Search site for keywords: Essex - Strike - Fire - Union - FBU

Essex fire control workers on strike, March 2015, photo by D Murray

Essex fire control workers on strike, March 2015, photo by D Murray   (Click to enlarge)

Essex: nine day fire control strike

Dave Murray

Fire control operators in Essex were on strike on 7-16 March in protest against the imposition of a 12-hour shift pattern in January.

The strike kicked off with a spiteful lockout by management, but in response the control staff escalated their action from the planned seven days to nine.

The changes have already forced some people out of the job, or into job share and part time work. As Riccardo la Torre, Essex Fire Brigades Union chair told me, it is a funny kind of 'modernisation' that forces women out of the workplace.

This is a now a long running dispute in which the union has made every effort to come up with a cost neutral compromise - none have been accepted by a dogmatic and inflexible strategic management team.

It is clear that if the shift changes are rammed down the throats of the control operators, then they will come for the fire stations next.

The most recent action is the first in which the control staff have been out on strike on their own. Their determination and high morale have shocked the brigade's management, who have driven past the picket line at the swish new Kelvedon control centre with narrowed eyes and gritted teeth. Senior managers who covered strikers duties did so in four hour shifts rather than the 12 they have unilaterally imposed on the workers.

This dispute is far from over. Alongside the headline issue of the shift patterns, a new and unreliable IT system has been introduced, and there is the unspoken hostility of the management towards the union, which underlies everything. Just as importantly, the control operators have had a taste of the power of their industrial action and the overwhelming support from fellow trade unionists and the public at large.







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