Defend the fire service with occupations, strike action and a general strike

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FIREFIGHTERS at their conference yesterday decided to put a seven-point pensions plan to ministers and seek new talks to try to avoid strike action over the massive changes the coalition has planned for their pensions.

The FBU said yesterday: ‘The proposed changes are unworkable and not fit for purpose, the Fire Brigades Union conference decided today in a unanimous vote.’

General secretary Matt Wrack said: ‘We still hope to avoid industrial action but we are determined to defend our pension rights. Genuine talks are still a real option and the ball is now firmly in government’s court to sort out the mess they have got themselves into.’

Wrack is to put a seven-point plan to ministers, and told the conference the proposal to raise the retirement age from 55 to 60 ‘is completely unworkable and the government know it. It does not take into account the physical demands of firefighting. The government’s own report demonstrates that a very high proportion of firefighters would not be able to reach the proposed pension age.

Instead they would face the prospect of being dismissed on grounds of capability. That is completely unjust and is not good public policy.’

Since the union wants to solve the issue by negotiation, not by industrial action, the conference decided not to call a strike ballot immediately.

The resolution says that the FBU ‘will remain ready to engage in genuine negotiations around the concerns we have raised, and is willing to meet ministers at any point with the aim of achieving improvements.’

This delaying decision is a mistake and sows the illusion that the government can be made to see sense.

The opposite is the case. The coalition government is determined to press forward and destroy the fire service, in the same way that it is determined to privatise the NHS out of existence and destroy the Welfare State. Its priority is to save the bosses and the bankers, and their capitalist system. The role of the working class is to pay the price.

To ram this point home, yesterday’s just-published government-sponsored review by Sir Ken Knight recommends that the Fire Service be slashed to pieces.

It states that fire and rescue services in England need to be ‘transformed’, claiming that incidents were down 40%, implying that so should the numbers of firefighters. The former chief fire and rescue adviser said having 46 separate authorities was not ‘sensible’, and that there should be a single fire service for England.

Knight said: ‘There will be an adjustment of numbers, of jobs, of people’, but warned that the ‘scale of change is unlikely to be achieved through local action alone’.

There is already talk of merging and privatising the emergency services, that is the fire service, the police and the ambulance service.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, criticised the review as ‘a fig leaf for slashing our fire and rescue service to bits’.

Meanwhile, Knight has told the BBC that ‘increasing retained on-call firefighters from 10% to 40% would save £130m’.

The reality of this situation is that the capitalist crisis is driving the coalition to destroy the fire service.

No amount of talks and pleadings will save it from them. In fact, such tactics will only convince the government that the FBU is there for the taking.

The FBU conference should correct the amiable reformism of their leadership.

It should carry an emergency motion for the occupation of all fire stations threatened with closure and for a strike ballot for indefinite action to defeat the government’s plans.

It should demand that the TUC put an end to just considering the practicalities of calling a general strike and, instead, call one to bring down the government and bring in a workers government and socialism.

This is the only way to defend the Fire Service, the Welfare State and all of the gains of the working class now threatened by the class war that the government has unleashed.