‘WE will commence a ballot for strike action in seven days’ time,’ Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack announced to a demonstration of more than 2,500 London firefighters yesterday.
There were loud shouts of ‘Coleman out! Coleman out!’ as firefighters – joined by FBU members from brigades across the country – voiced their anger at the Tory head of the London fire authority.
The firefighters wore their uniforms as they marched across Waterloo Bridge in a determined show of strength.
They vowed not to give up their essential jobs, or their conditions of service, and said that they would fight all the way against the threat to sack the entire 5,500-strong workforce, with only those prepared to accept ‘draconian’ new terms and conditions being re-engaged.
They said they were fighting to stop shift changes that would lead to fire station closures and a drastic reduction in London’s fire service.
Russell Brown, a firefighter from east London, told News Line: ‘There is support from other fire brigades today and we’ve had support from firefighters worldwide.’
Andy Flett, from Wallington, 21 years a firefighter, said: ‘It’s quite incredible that they feel they can sack 5,500 firefighters.’
‘It’s like from Victorian times. It’s got no place in the 21st century. People are very, very angry indeed,’ said Tony Thornes and Mick Broderick, from west London.
Among the Fire Brigades who brought their banners to the march yesterday were South East Region FBU, Devon FBU, Dorset FBU, Norfolk King’s Lynn FBU, Avon FBU, South-West Region FBU and South Yorkshire FBU.
John Gulliver, South Yorkshire FBU Brigade Secretary, said: ‘It carries on from our bitter dispute over two years ago.
‘We’re appalled that another chief officer, serving such a large brigade as well, of our capital, should try to enforce such draconian methods.’
The firefighters rallied outside a meeting of the London fire authority at the capital’s brigade headquarters in Southwark, where FBU leader Matt Wrack warned of plans to cut services by 25 per cent.
‘It’s absolute lunacy,’ he said, announcing that in addition to the current ballot for action short of a strike, the union was now going to ballot on a strike in London.
London FBU Regional Secretary Joe McVeigh declared to loud cheers: ‘We’re going to fight these cuts and fight this fire authority!
‘Stand up against injustice, stand up against bullying.’
FBU President Mick Shaw said: ‘Now we have Boris Johnson as London mayor and Brian “call me a taxi’’ Coleman as chair of the fire authority and he thinks he doesn’t have to listen to anybody. Well, he’s going to have to listen to the FBU.’
Liam Driver, from South Yorkshire FBU, got a huge cheer.
He said: ‘We won a negotiated settlement and got what we wanted. You can do the same. Bring London to a standstill. Unity is strength.’
FBU EC member Ian Leahair said: ‘For the last five years we’ve done nothing but change in London. But we will not accept the threat of the sack to change.’
Speakers from the RMT, GMB, Unison, the NUT, PCS and the South-East Region of the TUC brought greetings to the rally.