‘THIS dispute is not over,’ declared Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack at a packed 2,000-strong rally of striking firefighters in Westminster, central London, yesterday.
Firefighters in England were taking 24-hour strike action over just-passed legislation which attacks their pension rights leaving them vulnerable to being sacked on fitness grounds or losing half their pension.
Wrack continued: ‘We’ve seen fire officers trying to break our strike and we’ve seen members victimised. We’ll take a message back from this hall that this union will not back off.’
He added: ‘Essex members have voted to take further strike action. We’ve systematically lobbied MPs week in and week out. We are going to keep coming back until they listen to reason.’
In a message to the Labour leadership, he said: ‘We now demand you say clearly what you’re going to do if you win the election.’
Attacking the Fire Minister Penny Mordaunt, Wrack called on the Parliamentary Standards Committee to ‘deal with a lie in parliament’.
‘We’ve been called a bunch of mischiefmakers, but we’re going to carry on exposing you,’ he warned Mordaunt. ‘You’re not going to get away with it.’
Wrack concluded: ‘Ultimately firefighters will lay down their lives for other people. That’s why we will never give in.’
Labour MP John McDonnell, referring to the new pensions legislation, told the rally: ‘The vote was very close. For the first time in years a Labour leader instructed Labour MPs to support a union in dispute.
‘Then mendacious Mordaunt stood up. MPs passed into law legislation on the basis of a lie. That’s why we will not accept this. They have no idea what firefighters are all about. They see it through and do the job. That’s what we’re going to do on this issue.’
At Euston fire station, yesterday morning on the picket line, FBU member Jess told News Line: ‘We’re striking because the government won’t negotiate at all.
‘They made all these promises that were false a few months ago about our pensions and conditions.
‘And then they turned round a couple of weeks ago and said they wouldn’t guarantee anything that they promised.
‘The reason only England is coming out is all the devolved administrations have begun negotiations.
‘They have offered something that is fairer. We face losing our pension or being sacked if we can’t work till we’re 60.
‘I agree that all the unions need to come out in a general strike. That’s the only way we’ll make any change.’