NAME THE DAY FOR A GENERAL STRIKE! –POA secretary urges General Council

Firefighters show what the government plans for the fire service will mean
Firefighters show what the government plans for the fire service will mean

‘WE SHOULD pool together and name the day for a General Strike and bring this government down’, Prison Officer’s Association (POA) General Secretary Steve Gillen said to roaring applause from firefighters at a packed Westminster Hall on Wednesday.

‘WE SHOULD pool together and name the day for a General Strike and bring this government down’, Prison Officer’s Association (POA) General Secretary Steve Gillen said to roaring applause from firefighters at a packed Westminster Hall on Wednesday.

Following on from the FBU’s (Fire Brigade Union) powerful 5,000-strong, march through London, firefighters from all parts of the UK heard the POA leader call for united TUC action against privatisation and attacks on pensions.

Gillen, said: ‘The right-wing media has done a job on the public services, saying we all have gold-plated pensions. We are going to have to take action together at some stage. Enough is enough!

‘After a law was passed making it a criminal offence to induce a prison officer to take strike action, we did take action, and if the issue is right we will continue to take action for our members.

‘Be proud of yourselves for taking strike action’ he said, referring to the firefighter’s action this Saturday.

Citing three main privateers, Gillen said: ‘Serco, G4S and Sodexo have made millions off their private contracts in the NHS, local government, prisons and now the Post Office.

‘The government privatised the first prison in 1993 – and the Labour Party at the time didn’t treat us properly either. If you can privatise a prison, then by god you can privatise anything’.

Gillen continued: ‘We are wharehousing prisoners with no chance of rehabilitation because of privatisation, locking up more prisoners with less staff.

‘Great Britain should be ashamed of itself.

‘It was the POA that called on the TUC to look into the practicalities of a General Strike. We did this because we recognised that no single trade union can beat this government on their own’, Gillen added.

‘They want to increase our working life for less benefit’, said Alan Paterson Scottish Regional Chair.

‘In Scotland, members are being consulted on a pensions deal put forward by Brendan Lewis. the Fire Minister, but many have said its not enough not to take strike action.

‘Without formally consulting our members, it appears that it falls well short, and it is not worth putting to members in England and Wales.’

Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, commended the FBU members for the turnout and spoke at length on the need to organise for solid strike action at Brigade level.

Wrack said the FBU had negotiated in good faith for two and a half years, presenting solid evidence, but not a single person from management would answer.

Firefighters cheered when Wrack told them the Scottish FBU had pledged ‘there will be no cross border activity when the firefighters are on strike’.

Wrack said firefighters should study the proposals for Scotland, where ministers promised ‘a process’ when firefighters reach their 50s.

‘The authority will start an “ability initiated retirement” which is nowhere near similar to the retirement package we have now’, Wrack warned.

He continued: ‘At the moment we are under intense pressure to cancel the strike on Saturday. But unless they come up with something, that strike will be going ahead.’

Wrack added: ‘There are no straightforward answers,’ and called for intense work place organisation, to win the dispute.

Wrack said the FBU had been threatened with court action for making an ‘unlawful call for industrial action’, if any members wore uniforms.

‘Since when’, Wrack said: ‘is putting on a uniform, industrial action,’ noting the smartly uniformed FBU delegation who had flown over from the north of Ireland for the march.

‘They want to hobble you and control you inside and outside your workplace. But we are grown-up people and we will march and show who we are to the public.

‘We can’t have an invisible strike. We are out for good reason. It is not the FBU executive council but our members on the ground who are organising this fight’.

David Bueno Sane, leader of the Bombaderos (firefighters) in Spain, spoke to the rally about the devastation that austerity measures had caused in Spain.

He said: ‘In Galicia, out of 35 stations only 8 are left’. Sane said it was necessary for the unions to reconstruct a social movement to prevent workers becoming isolated when they are under government attack.

He referred to the 15M movement in Spain. On 15 September in Madrid, over one hundred thousand people answered the unions’ call to demand a referendum on austerity.

Sane called for ‘unity in action across all European unions to fight state forces who were attacking workers and trade unionists’.

On the march, Gerard Brian from Norfolk FBU, said: ‘We are being rolled over. They are doing it to everyone, and they have to be stopped because if we don’t do it now there wont be any emergency services.

‘The government are burying their heads in the sand. The are cutting council budgets and, to find money, councils are slashing the Fire Service budget because they have no choice. It has a knock-on effect, harming the public.

‘The TUC and the Labour Party have not done enough. And if the Labour Party did get into power what would they do that would be different. We are heading in one direction, a slump and it does not seem to be stopping.

‘This lot in power are lucky the British people are lenient. If this was France or Egypt it would be kicking off’, Brian said.

Cleveland FBU Secretary Dave Powell, in a short address from the FBU battle bus, warned: ‘The Cleveland fire service faces the first attempt by the government to privatise a fire service. The government are out to privatise the fire brigade.

‘We will not let this happen, in fact 97% of those we surveyed said they would not let it happen.

‘If we are not in the public sector then we are in the private sector. There is NO third sector.

‘We are here to tell the government to stop the cuts. You won’t get past Cleveland. We will stop it there!’

Bringing greetings to the march, former NUM president, now Ashington MP, Ian Lavery, said: ‘The object of the coalition is to privatise the fire service.

‘Mutualisation is one step from privatisation. Firefighters do a fundamental job, yet what we see is the closure of fire stations.’

Colin Jones, London FBU, said: ‘Basically the attack on our pensions is to make cost savings.

‘The affront is that at the beginning of your career you sign a contract and then at the end of the day the government decides to penalise us, and the Fire Authority just lie down and take it. They are not fighting them.

‘The Chief London Fire Officer has already collected his pension and has then been re-employed in the same job. It smacks of a Victorian mill owner.

‘I don’t know what the FBU strategy really is. To get the best deal possible? But sometimes the compromise is too much.

‘We need to talk to other unions who are in dispute. Very short strikes are ineffective and strengthen the resolve of the managers who believe they can cope.

‘Those on the TUC appear to be looking after their own interests. They are a self-serving power in positions of authority and have lost touch with people on the ground who are taking the flack,’ Jones concluded.

Dan Giblin from Euston FBU said: ‘People are angry about this because lives will be lost. We are being attacked locally with station closures and job losses and now they are threatening our pensions which will mean some of us will be without jobs and without pensions, and the public will be at risk.

He added: ‘The TUC leaders are all looking for gongs and honours, like Brendan Barber who took a knighthood. They are looking for peerages and won’t want to upset their mates in the Labour Party.

‘It is an outrage what is going on. We have been pushed into a corner and we have to break out.’

Croydon FBU member Jamie Fawke said: ‘I feel when I joined the job I agreed to terms and conditions and to work till I’m 55.

‘It seems with modern governments, contracts are not legally binding anymore. I think they should be.

‘There has to be action. You have to be seen doing something, you have to make a stand.

‘You’ve got MPs increasing their salaries and spending £400 million on the war in Syria, yet we face pension cuts and station closures.

‘All the public sector should take action together. There should be a general strike.’

Fellow Croydon firefighter, Robert Gater, added: ‘It helps for other unions to come out with us. It has a bigger impact. You are not just doing it for yourself; you’re doing it for the public as well.’

Barnsley FBU member Andy Braddock said: ‘I’m 31. I could have retired at 53. Now I’ll have to retire at 60. I don’t think I’m capable of doing that.

‘It’s disgusting the way they are using work capability to sack firefighters.

‘We pay £300 a month for our pensions, which is a gamble under the proposed changes. We would have to wait until national retirement age to get any pension.

‘We’d be left without a job and a pension for years.

‘We all agree the public sector should all go on strike together against the cuts and privatisation.’

London FBU member Tom Connolly, from Park Royal Fire Station, said: ‘I’m protesting because I have to contribute more to my pension, get less in return and work longer.

‘This isn’t what I originally signed up for, so our terms and conditions are under attack.

‘It looks like we’ll have to take further industrial action. No firefighter likes to take strike action, but we have no choice.

‘Unfortunately, at the moment there seems to be no end to the dispute unless we manage to negotiate a reasonable settlement.

‘The whole public sector should come out together, all those that are under threat.’

Speaking to News Line, Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, said: ‘We are still trying to discuss with the government. They haven’t yet come up with any proposal that addresses any of our concerns. Therefore, there is a strike on Saturday.

‘There are regular meetings of the FBU Executive Council. We are encouraging our members to organise and to discuss with local unions and the community.

‘We’re happy to discuss with other unions the action that we and they are taking.’