OVER seven hundred firefighters and control staff assembled in Westminster on Wednesday to launch a new ‘Firefighters’ Manifesto’.
As the country recovers from flooding, and braces for the realities of climate change, the union warned that politicians must ‘listen to the voice of the frontline’ if they want to ‘avert catastrophe’.
The Firefighters’ Manifesto outlines the devastating impact of the past 13 years of austerity on the fire and rescue service, including:
- 1 in 5 firefighter jobs cut
- A 30% cut in central government funding in cash terms
- Record high response times
- Dozens of fire stations closed
- Dangerously overstretched responses to floods, wildfires and other weather events.
The manifesto demands:
- An immediate injection of cash into the fire and rescue service
- National standards on response times and crewing
- A new statutory advisory body to set policy and standards, with a seat at the table for firefighters
- A series of measures to ensure safe housing for all, pushing back against deregulation
- Climate action, with resources and coordination to safeguard against flooding and extreme weather events
- Progress on equalities, fire contaminants and democratic accountability.
Firefighters travelled from across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to join a packed rally at the Methodist Central Hall before going on to lobby MPs.
Firefighters in uniform marched from the Central Hall rally to demonstrate outside Downing Street before going on to lobby Parliament.
Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said on the eve of the rally: ‘The fire and rescue service is in crisis. To avoid catastrophe, politicians must start listening to the voice of the frontline.
‘Firefighters are there in our time of need, and climate change means there is an urgent requirement to build resilience in the fire and rescue service, as recent flooding has illustrated.
‘But every year it’s getting harder to protect our communities. One in five firefighter jobs has been cut since 2010. Response times are at record highs, and firefighters are regularly pushed beyond safe limits.
‘Meanwhile, decades of deregulation have created the conditions for tragedies, putting safety in homes and workplaces on the line.’
Addressing the Westminster Central Hall rally, he stressed: ‘The coming election is an important turning point. Make sure we see the back of the Tories.
‘From 2010 we’ve seen a constant attack on our conditions. While the banks were rescued, we’ve seen the destruction of wages, and an attack on our pensions.
‘Some people have done very well – the billionaires. That’s not good enough we want to restore our living standards.
‘Funding is the key. Fire engines have been axed. 82 fire stations have been closed. 12,000 jobs have gone.’
He added: ‘Deregulation is at the heart of what we are fighting. Deregulation means scrapping health and safety. We saw that at Grenfell.
‘Building are not safe. The government’s answer is to reduce regulation on breathing apparatus.
‘We’ll fight deregulation every step of the way.’
He concluded: ‘We are facing new and emerging risks. Our message to politicians is we need investment.
‘In previous strikes we stood together. When you take on one of us you take on all of us.’
The rally speeches were interspersed with campaign videos, messages from the regions.
They included a video message from a Palestinian firefighter from Nablus in the occupied West Bank.
He urged: ‘Stop the British government’s endless support for Israel. They are killing Palestinians without any respect for law.
‘I know the FBU is a strong union. Your former general secretary Ken Cameron stood against Israeli policies. Your support is very welcome.’
The first speaker at the rally, TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: ‘We need a service that is working. Wildfires, floods, 13 years of Tory government, 13 years of austerity have left our fire service in crisis.
‘It’s the same across all public service.
‘The government is taking away the right to strike. It’s the last act of this Tory government.
‘We’re going to fight this legislation. We will not stand by and let them sack one single worker for exercising his right to strike.
‘We need to vote out this government. We want a Labour government delivering its promise to repeal anti-union legislation.
‘It’s time for change, it’s time for a fair deal for firefighters.
‘Hundreds of thousands have taken action. The RMT campaign has seen the complete scrapping of ticket office closures.
‘Taking strike action together we can deliver that manifesto together.’
Craig, Merseyside FBU, said: ‘We have chief fire officers that are more like politicians. They sit round the table while we save lives.
‘’We demand change. We demand a promise from there Labour leadership stand with us, not against us.
‘We face an attack on our terms and conditions. With unity we can win. We had a 100% vote for strike action.
‘We need to organise. Each and every member has a duty to become militant for our demands.
‘We demand a future fire service for a future generation.’
Labour MP John McDonnell urged: ‘Recognise what’s happening in Gaza – the loss of life. 3,000 children have been killed in Palestine.
‘The FBU has assisted in Palestine. I was pleased to see the FBU delegation on the march Saturday calling for peace and justice.
‘13 years of Tory rule, we’ve had to deal with year after year of cuts.
‘Your manifesto is saying we’ve had enough of all that. We need a statutory duty to deal with flooding.
‘What the Tories have done to the fire service is criminal. I’ll be the first MP to sign your manifesto.
‘A Labour government has to be told this is a priority, restore the cuts. If they say they can’t afford it, tax the wealthy.’
A Scotland FBU female member, told the rally: ‘In Scotland, 1,200 firefighters were cut, 25% of our service.
‘Last year alone we lost 20 people. We have to take action to stop fire service cuts.’
A North Wales FBU female firefighter said: ’We’ve seen the loss of firefighters, loss of appliance, the loss of five fire stations.
‘We won one battle but they want to close down another fire station.
‘We’ve been told our watch will be cut in 2025. Senior management have given themselves exorbitant pay rises.
‘These cuts are not acceptable.’
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘I hope you can take some strength from what we won yesterday. Mobilising together, this wins.
‘We remember the King’s Cross fire when we joined with the FBU to get these regulations.
‘All Tories Sunak, May, Johnson and Cameron have talked about is deregulation.
‘Deregulation means cuts. We stand with you with our common bond, working class solidarity.
‘Yesterday the Transport Secretary told rail bosses to do away with regulations that they made.
‘Tell the politicians you must deliver our agenda. Push the TUC into a position of non-cooperation, non-compliance with any minimum service level.
‘Tell the government you are going to comply with us or face strike action.
‘Now is the time to fight, now is the time to campaign. – we are going to win.’
A London firefighter told the rally: ‘Our campaign for safety come out of the deaths. Our lives are being put in danger by fire service managers and their cavalier attitude to health and safety. We need the firefighters manifesto so badly.’
Coventry South Labour MP Zarah Sultana declared: ‘I give my absolute solidarity to the Palestinian people. There has to be a ceasefire.’
In a reference to Labour leader Starmer’s support for PM Sunak’s opposition to a ceasefire, she said: ‘As an MP you can’t just stand for what’s popular.’
Sultana added: ‘Tory cuts of one in five firefighters. The impact is clear for everyone to see, the fire service is in crisis.
‘MPs have to recognise the life saving work day in, day out of firefighters.
‘Trade unions must have the right to organise and take action. From NHS, council workers, Amazon, working people have taken action.
‘We need public ownership of rail, mail, all public services.
‘There has to be a commitment to change society for all of us.’