THE six-hour strike by firefighters on New Year’s Eve was a demonstration of the solidarity and determination of FBU members across the country to defend and preserve what is the most vital public service.
Every day of the week, 52 weeks of the year, firefighters place their lives on the line in the performance of their duties – a job that requires the very highest levels of physical fitness both for their own and the public’s safety.
The anger of FBU members at the government proposals to raise the retirement age from 55 to 60 years, with the prospect of those over 55 facing stringent fitness tests which, should they fail, would result in their dismissal with no guarantee of a pension, is completely justified.
This is not just a question for firefighters. The fact that this coalition government can even contemplate introducing such measures is a clear statement of their total contempt and disregard for the health and safety of the public.
Quite simply, the Tories and their LibDem allies have one major concern and that is making savage cuts and saving money in order to pay back the debts of the banks.
There is no limit to the amount this government will spend propping up the bankers and ensuring that they continue with their million pound bonuses, but when it comes to keeping fire stations open, or allowing people to retire at a reasonable age, then suddenly there is no money.
The attitude of firefighters was graphically demonstrated during their strike on Christmas Eve when FBU members in the East of England voluntarily abandoned their action in order to rescue members of the public in danger from the floods.
Contrast this selfless action of public sector employees, who take their commitment to providing a service above all other consideration, with the actions of the privatised energy and rail companies.
These privateers have spent years cutting essential maintenance programmes and sacking thousands of staff in the name of profit, instead of preparing to deal with disasters and emergency situations.
While every single firefighter is a hero, these privateers, and the government that is trying to hand the entire public sector over to them, are nothing but parasites feeding off the misery of the public.
However, the time has come for the whole campaign by the FBU to defend the fire service to move on to a much higher level than partial strikes.
The brutal truth is that there can be no negotiated settlement with this government, a government which is determined to make savage cuts in the public sector to save the bankers.
The serious flooding and energy supply meltdown this winter has not even led to a reprieve for a single fire station – all the cuts remain, despite the desperate need for a fully functioning Fire and Rescue Service.
The only concern of the coalition is to save bankrupt British capitalism at the expense of the working class, nothing else matters.
One-day or partial strikes designed to put pressure on the government to return to the negotiating table, therefore, cannot win this struggle against the imposition of ‘austerity measures’ by a completely determined government.
While the tactic of one-day strikes was sufficient to start off a campaign to win support and highlight the issues at stake, it cannot lead to victory.
Only by moving to a much higher level of industrial and political action can the fire service be defended.
This means a campaign that every fire station threatened with closure must be defended through occupations, supported by all trade unions.
This must be accompanied by an indefinite national strike by the FBU and the demand that the TUC and the other public sector unions come out in support.
The time has come to demand that the leadership of the TUC stops considering a general strike and either calls one, or resigns and is replaced by a leadership that will.
A general strike, with the aim of removing this government from office and replacing it with a workers government and socialism, is the only way forward for firefighters and the entire working class today.