‘WE NEED A GENERAL STRIKE’ says CWU Eastern Region Secretary

Striking firefighters out in force on the picket line at Holloway Fire Station
Striking firefighters out in force on the picket line at Holloway Fire Station

‘THIS conflict could be resolved very easily. Lift the sackings and we can all go back to work,’ declared Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack on Saturday.

He was speaking before leading London firefighters out on the first of two eight-hour strikes at Euston fire station at 10am.

The strikes were called after the London Fire Brigade refused to withdraw letters of dismissal sent to all 5,600 London firefighters on 11th August.

Wrack added: ‘Our message to (London fire authority chairman) Brian Coleman and (London Fire Commissioner) Ron Dobson is lift the sackings and there’ll be no more strikes.’

All London’s firefighters have been told they will be sacked unless they sign new contracts with worse terms and conditions.

FBU executive member for London Ian Leahair added: These cuts will lead to a worse fire service in London.

‘London Fire Brigade are today using untrained civilian staff.

‘We say don’t play with the public’s lives, support professional firefighters.’

A Euston fire crew manager, FBU member Tim Frisby told News Line: ‘This strike is about the management trying to push through change.

‘We’ve all been threatened with the sack unless we accept shift changes that 98 per cent don’t want.

‘The shift changes they are proposing could lead to night time fire cover being reduced and the dismantling of the watch system.

‘This would destroy the team-based nature of the service and put firefighters and the public at risk.

‘Brian Coleman, the Tory chairman of the LFEPA (London Fire & Emergency Planning Authority), seems to have a personal vendetta against firefighters.

‘Morale is at an all-time low. Over the last two months we’ve been threatened with two reductions in our pay and been bullied into performing overtime.

‘We’ve had threatening letters sent to our homes.

‘We’re up for a fight now. It’s about saving our jobs and saving fire cover.

‘Whether there are more strikes is down to management.

‘If they lift the sacking orders we’ll go back to work.

‘Shift changes are a matter of negotiation, not imposition.’

Euston firefighter Chris Connolly said: ‘If someone takes your contract, tears it up and throws it in your face, you have no option but to take action.

‘No one here wants to go on strike, we want to see a sensible negotiation.

‘All management need to do is rescind the sacking orders and we’ll go back to work.’

Euston Red Watch crew manager Paul Godber added: ‘Under the 90-day notice, we’re all sacked – no redundancy, pension postponed and frozen, and no job.

‘Some people might feel comfortable living in a society where you have a Victorian, dictatorial industrial relations, we are not.

‘We are determined. We’ve been backed into a corner.

‘We were working to rule and the result of this was pay reductions of up to 80 per cent.

‘Personally, this month I’ve had £350 taken out of my wage packet for refusing to do temporary promotion.’

Another Euston FBU member, Louisa said: ‘We’re here because we don’t like being threatened with the sack.

‘We’re a workforce and we are striking together.

‘Nobody wants to strike, but we have no choice.

‘Chancellor Osborne talked about reform of the fire service.

‘We’re happy with reform but we don’t want it forced upon us.’

Kentish Town FBU member Chris Pugh arrived at Euston with others from his station.

He told News Line: ‘This strike is to secure all firefighters’ futures.

‘Management are hell bent on reducing our conditions of service.

‘This will have a further impact on the general public, ultimately leading to a reduction in fire cover throughout London.

‘We’re in this to win and secure all our members’ future.’

After walking out with his members FBU leader Matt Wrack joined firefighters on a demonstration against the cuts from outside the RMT union’s head office in nearby Chalton Street.

The 3,000-strong protest was called by the National Shop Stewards Committee.

At a short rally before setting off, RMT official Steve Hedley said: ‘There is no fire cover on the London Underground today because our FBU comrades are on strike.

‘Many RMT members have decided it’s too dangerous to operate trains, so we have no Jubilee Line and there are delays an other lines.

‘We are here today because international capitalism is attacking us.

‘The media would have you believe “we are all in this together”, that people are happy with having their pensions cut and living on the street.

‘We do object. The RMT are on strike on the Tube because they want to decimate the workforce, which will put the public at risk.

‘We are here to tell them “you are not going to cut our jobs to pay for your crisis”.

‘The RMT will stand shoulder to shoulder with firefighters and every worker on strike.

‘Protests are not enough, the TUC has to call a national one-day strike.’

One of the marchers, Kensington & Chelsea local government Unison member Sonia Howard told News Line: ‘We’re protesting against the cuts announced on the 20th October.

‘We’re here to make a stand. We need to fight for an alternative to these cuts.

‘We should be doing what they are doing in France.

‘The TUC should really be organising and leading.

‘It should be calling a nationwide day of action across all of the unions this year – a sort of general strike.

‘We all need to take a stand, we have no choice.’

London FBU led the march, which included RMT branch banners from London and from Portsmouth; TSSA national banner; NUT national banner and several London branch banners; UCU London branches; PCS Revenue and Customs and Young members; Harrow and District CWU; Eastern Region CWU; several Unison branches in London; Unite London and Eastern Region; and several London trades councils.

CWU Eastern Region Secretary Paul Moffat told News Line: ‘We’re here to support the RMT and firefighters in London against the cuts.

‘My view is we need a general strike, starting with a one-day general strike as a minimum.

‘All the unions have to come out and show strong leadership at the top.

‘The time for talking is over, it’s now time for direct action.

‘This government has declared war on the working class and it’s time for us to stand up and be counted.

‘The option of doing nothing is not on, or there’ll be nothing left for the working class to fight for.’

Nadine Houghton, Unite London and Eastern Young Members Committee, said: ‘I’m here as a young trade unionist hoping this is the first step in putting pressure on the TUC to call a general strike against the cuts.

‘I’m here in solidarity with the firefighters and to show the public that the unions, young people and workers alike will not take cuts to our public sector lying down.’

Home Office Group PCS rep Lorna Cox said: ‘I live in Croydon.

‘It’s going to be one of the worst affected boroughs in London by the cuts.

‘The three biggest employers are in the public sector.

‘We face 40 per cent cuts in Croydon Council and 30 per cent in the civil service.

‘There are lots of people unemployed in the borough already.

‘There won’t be jobs for people made redundant. Jobs in the private sector is a myth.

‘The ConDem government is making an ideological attack. It wants a reduced state.

‘PCS passed a motion at the TUC Congress to have this demonstration and we are leafleting the public to expose the government agenda and fight against the cuts.

‘PCS have proposed an alternative to cut the deficit by collecting all of the £120bn in avoided, evaded and uncollected tax, which would not cost jobs.’

She concluded: ‘I’m for a five-day general strike.’

The march ended in a rally at Bloomsbury, while a delegation went on to the TUC to demand further action.

Addressing a final rally, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: ‘There is an alternative.

‘Firefighters are on strike, RMT members are on strike.

‘We have to build up the biggest resistance, not just to get rid of the Tories but to force Labour to fight for the working people.’

He added: ‘If the top two per cent paid tax we could cancel the debt.’

Crow concluded: ‘We have to build the movement up, we ain’t going to pay the price of the banks’ crisis.’