STRIKING firefighters were in a determined mood on Friday evening at the start of the Fire Brigades Union’s (FBU’s) four-day action in defence of pensions.
At Stoke Newington fire station, east London, FBU member and watch manager Richard Barron told News Line: ‘This latest strike is stepping up our campaign which we feel that we had no option in doing, to get our message across about how strong we feel about the pension issue.
‘The government itself has done its own research into physical deterioration and it has shown that 92 per cent of firefighters would not be able to be physically fit enough to do the job by the time they are 60.
‘Ministers are creating a situation where we will not be able to fulfil our length of time. Then we would not be able to access our pension and would be made to leave the job because of failing the capability test.
‘This is likely to happen when we are in our fifties and, as we all know, if you’re in your fifties it’s difficult to get re-employed – without access to your pension your only option would be to rely on benefits.
‘Some firefighters have had the foresight to sign up to the pension contract in their twenties.
‘Having done twenty-five years of service, rather than being able to access it, there and then, they are now being told they have to keep paying in for another ten to fifteen years.
‘They won’t be able to access it until they are 60 and if they fail the capability test, they won’t be able to access it until they’re 67!
‘The government is trying to push a law through parliament to ban us from striking.
‘These are critical times. We have always been a strong union, and it’s about standing up for our rights.
‘The tactics that the government are using mean that either all the unions come out fighting or our fundamental human right to strike will be taken away from us. That’s why I’m for a general strike.’
Mark Woodham, FBU Hackney branch chairman, said: ‘We are out on strike after we suspended our previous action for two months because the Department for Communities and Local Government said that they would table a better offer.’
Mark says that better offer hasn’t happened ‘so now all of England is out on strike for four days’.
Mark said: ‘The idea that we will have to work as firefighters until we’re 60 is unacceptable. In a nutshell, we’ll have to work longer, pay more in and get less out.’
He said that if firefighters fail the capability tests ‘it could mean we get the sack if and end up with no pension’.
Striking firefighters on the picket line at Chelsea fire station on the King’s Road in west London were getting plenty of support from passers-by for their strike action.
Steve Stephenson, FBU rep at the station, told News Line: ‘People are saying why are you striking on fireworks weekend, but we have had 40 strikes over the last year!
‘We stopped striking for six weeks on the proviso that there would be a sensible offer on the table.
‘Fire minister Penny Mordaunt kept putting the deadline back and at the end of the six weeks every firefighter got a letter telling them that there would be no new offer.
‘So we were strung along for six weeks against a backdrop of new offers to firefighters in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
‘If there is no response after this four-day strike we will have to escalate our action.
‘Cameron the other day said this battle is between firemen and their employers but ultimately our employer is the government. He is just washing his hands of it.
‘Our strike is to defend all blue light services which includes the ambulance service which is under a lot of pressure when we are stretched as it is.
‘On Friday night, when we started our strike a man had collapsed down the road, we couldn’t get an ambulance, only a paramedic arrived and we had to carry him him into her vehicle to take him to an A&E.
‘All the time private companies are being buttered up to take over public services.’
In Norwich, the watch manager at Earlham fire station, Norman Ireland, said: ‘This is the start of a long haul up to the election and beyond if necessary.’
Firefighters in England, currently undertaking four days of strike action until 4 November over the government’s implementation of an unfair, unaffordable and unsustainable pension scheme, have received more messages of support from other trade unions.
Christine Blower, National Union of Teachers general secretary, wrote to FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, saying: ‘The NUT wishes to express full support for your union’s strike action from 31 October to 4 November. Your campaign is to be applauded and the stand you are taking today has our full backing.
‘NUT members are facing similar attacks with regards to their pensions. I hope that your union’s action over the four days is successful.
‘Please convey the NUT’s solidarity to all your members.’
Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said: ‘RMT members are proud to support FBU members striking to protect their pensions – we will always stand in solidarity with the firefighters.
‘The Westminster government’s latest pension grab is unworkable and will be defeated. The quicker the government recognises the scale and resolution of the opposition to their plans the better.
‘It may well not be safe for transport workers, especially on the sub-surface network, to present for work without proper fire safety back up. The RMT will support any transport worker who declines to work due to the safety risk during the FBU strike.’
Mark Serwotka, Public and Commercial Services union general secretary, said: ‘PCS fully supports the action taken by FBU members in defence of their pensions and the vital services they provide.
‘This government has acted totally disingenuously in negotiations with the union, and the result is an escalation of industrial action – because firefighters refuse to be treated in such a brazen manner.’
Enrique Fossoul de la Sierra, general secretary of the Spanish trade union Confederations of Workers Commission, said: ‘The firefighters of CCOO in Spain are sensitive to your problems which are similar to ours.
‘We support the measures you have taken to struggle against the attack of the government on public services and particularly focused on your pensions.
‘While the financial capital and multinational companies keep growing, the Troika and our governments impose policies of austerity that stifle the workers and destroy public services.
‘Regarding this situation extraordinary measures are needed. Now more than ever it is necessary that the workers get together to fight for our rights.’