‘FIRE deaths in Merseyside have doubled in the past five years,’ Merseyside firefighters warned yesterday as further savage cuts are planned to their service.
Merseyside firefighters warned that the government is playing Russian roulette with people’s lives by imposing huge budget cuts to the fire and rescue service. Les Skarratts, regional secretary of the FBU in the North West, accused the government of vandalising the service. ‘It is a serious and growing problem that firefighters are determined to tackle but the government need to invest in the service,’ he said.
‘We need a serious, grown-up debate from politicians of all parties to see what kind of service they want for Merseyside. A professional, effective service ready for today’s challenges or a run down, unsafe and threadbare service.’
By 2020 budgets cuts to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service are likely to result in:
• The number of firefighters cut from 962 to 564 = -398, equivalent to 41 per cent
• The number of emergency control staff cut from 42 to 32
• The number of fire engines cut from 42 to 28
• The number of fire stations reduced from 26 to 22.
Meanwhile Gloucestershire firefighters have slammed ‘disgraceful’ plans to cut fire cover which ‘will compromise the safety of the public’ and demand that the council ‘rejects these dangerous proposals’. The recommendations by senior managers at Gloucestershire’s fire service is to shut down Painswick fire station and cut all the full time firefighters.
The decision by managers at Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service to back the cuts comes despite thousands of people objecting to the plans during a recent three-month consultation. Objecting to the proposals, the FBU wrote in their response to the consultation that the cuts ‘will compromise the safety of the public and communities in Gloucestershire’.
Scott Turner, secretary of the FBU in Gloucestershire, said: ‘Firefighters in Gloucestershire are shocked and deeply concerned at these recommendations that will put the safety of the public and firefighters in the county at greater risk. Thousands of people shared the concerns of firefighters and signed petitions calling for the plans, which will lead to slower response times across the county, to be dropped.
‘These plans will lead to fewer firefighters and fire stations which will compromise our ability to respond to large scale incidents such as flooding. We urge the county council to put public safety first and reject these cuts at their full cabinet meeting next week.’
Trevor French, regional secretary of the FBU in the South West, said: ‘The public have made their thoughts clear on these recommendations and if the consultation means anything, these cuts must be rejected. Firefighters in Gloucester just want to serve the public and protect people from harm, and these recommendations if implemented, will make our job harder. Firefighters are calling on Gloucestershire County Council to reject these dangerous proposals.’
• Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU on 21 January spoke at a conference in Manchester on ‘Nationalisation, Co-operatives and the Labour movement’. During his speech he said: ‘I am opposed to the private ownership of big industry and of public services because I believe the system based on endless pursuit of profit is wasteful, exploitative and inefficient.
‘However I am equally opposed to the old Stalinist command economies – where workers could not organise their own unions and where bureaucratic plans and targets were imposed from on high and without any democratic control at all. I think the case of the old nationalised industries is a bit different and the call for re-nationalisation of rail raises the question sharply; what sort of public ownership do we want?
‘I won’t idealise British Rail and other such examples – they are not my models. I believe we could build models of ownership and control that involve workers and users or consumers in decisions making about what is produced and how it is done – including in public services.
‘For the fire and rescue service now, the public ownership of our service matters. It makes a difference both to the service we provide to the public and to the conditions firefighters have at work. I think some within cooperative circles downplay the importance of ownership.
‘But it does matter whether any surpluses are reinvested or whether they are bled off in dividends. We have seen disastrous examples of privatisation in the fire service. Ownership does matter because the goal of production – and especially of public services – makes a difference.
‘The second point, arising from the experience of the old nationalised industries and relevant to the cooperative alternative, is workers’ control. Giving the workforce a definite voice in the production of goods and services is the key democratic argument to make. I don’t mean just a union rep on the board of a company.
‘I mean assemblies of workers, elected representatives with real powers, in short a real collective voice at work, is crucial to any alternative. On a small scale for many years, the FBU had partial control over many aspects of the service, through our role on government-management-union bodies and on fire stations. Again, I don’t want to idealise it.
‘But it is possible for unions and workers to play a much more significant role in the management of any enterprise and any service. It makes the work safer and it makes the service better. So my answer to the question about alternatives is clear:
‘No, there is not an alternative if the ownership structure of private enterprise (or command economy) stays in place and if the organisational changes are superficial and cosmetic. However, YES, there is an alternative if it involves public, social ownership, workers control and democratic accountability.’
During his speech he quoted Karl Marx. ‘The co-operative factories run by workers themselves are, within the old form, the first examples of the emergence of a new form, even though they naturally reproduce in all cases, in their present organisation, all the defects of the existing system, and must reproduce them. But the opposition between capital and labour is abolished there, even if at first only in the form that the workers in association become their own capitalists, i.e., they use the means of production to valorise their labour.’ – Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3 (London: Penguin, 1981), 571
‘If cooperative production is not to remain a sham and a snare; if it is to supersede the capitalist system; if the united co-operative societies are to regulate national production upon a common plan, thus taking it under their control, and putting an end to the constant anarchy and periodical convulsions which are the fatality of Capitalist production—what else, gentlemen, would it be but Communism, “possible” Communism?’ – Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1975), vol. 22, 335.
‘As far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of workers and not protégés either of the governments or of the bourgeoisie.’ – Karl Marx, The Critique of the Gotha Programme, in Marx and Engels, Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1975), vol. 24, 93–94.