STRIKE WAVE! – Firefighters, hospital workers and postal workers take action

Whipps Cross strikers took their campaign to Rentokil head office in Victoria, central London, yesterday
Whipps Cross strikers took their campaign to Rentokil head office in Victoria, central London, yesterday

Firefighters, hospital and postal workers were manning picket lines yesterday as the working class stepped up action to defend jobs, wages and conditions.

Over 1,100 Merseyside Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members walked out at 10 am to begin eight days of strike action against plans to axe 120 firefighter posts – one in ten of the workforce – in addition to the 68 posts cut last year.

In addition, fire chiefs intend to introduce a 96 hour week at some fire stations; cut 15 emergency fire control operator posts – one in four of the workforce; and axe four fire engines at night time.

‘There’s been a lot of support, members are absolutely solid,’ Neil Young, FBU branch secretary at Bootle and Netherton, one of the stations threatened with reduced cover, told News Line yesterday.

He added: ‘People from brigades across the country have come to bring their support and show solidarity with Merseyside firefighters.

‘We all intend to defend fire cover for the communities we serve and for our own safety.’

The Army has been unable to provide strike-breaking fire cover during the strike due to commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Commenting on fire authority strike-breaking plans, Young said: ‘They are using officers who have had to undergo training and civilian staff who in no shape or form have ever been firefighters.

‘They are also using recruits from the training school who are not qualified.’

Merseyside FBU Brigade Secretary Les Skarratts said: ‘We’ve been ready for talks at any time but management have not offered talks until Saturday or Sunday.’

‘We had no alternative but to strike.

‘We’re defending firefighters’ jobs and the service to the public.’

FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack accused Merseyside fire chief Tony McGuirk of provoking the strikes as part of a ‘union-busting’ plan.

Wrack said: ‘For some time the union has had concerns about what appears to be a union-busting strategy by the Chief Fire Officer in Merseyside.

‘We have evidence that he does seem to be intent on provoking conflict with the FBU, and he has boasted in other parts of the world about his strategy for taking on the union.

‘It seems difficult for us to resolve this dispute if there are other agendas at work.’

Postal workers in Oxford also began strike action yesterday.

About 100 postal workers in Witney and Carterton delivery offices began a three-day official strike following an unofficial walkout last month, sparked by the suspension of a postman and allegations of bullying.

A ballot was held two weeks ago after Royal Mail managers broke local and national agreements.

Talks held on Wednesday between CWU officials and Royal Mail failed to reach agreement.

Meanwhile, an unofficial strike by postal workers in Devon entered its third day yesterday.

Workers at Exeter Mail Centre walked out on Tuesday in support of a CWU official involved in a dispute with managers.

Picket lines were out again yesterday as national union officials arrived to handle the negotiations.

The CWU announced yesterday that Post Office staff in south west Wales will walk out on strike for two hours next Monday in protest against the closure of offices in Swansea and Llanelli.

Ninety-three members of staff from seven offices across south west Wales will walk out at 12pm.

Meanwhile, nearly 300 porters, cleaners and switchboard staff employed by Rentokil Initial at Whipps Cross Hospital in East London began the second day of a three-day strike over equal pay yesterday.

Over 20 of the strikers took their struggle to Rentokil Initial headquarters in Buckingham Palace Road, where workers gave out leaflets and information.

Maurice Sheehan, UNISON regional organiser, said: ‘We’re here to highlight a major problem in the company, which reflects the obscene pay gap in society.

‘We are giving out information to highlight the problem people have living on this money and questioning why the company can’t honour a legal agreement.’

UNISON member Michael Masters, a porter at Whipps Cross, said: ‘What we are asking for is only what we are entitled to.

‘It should have been implemented on April 1 this year and was agreed in 2003.

‘All the other hospitals where our company has contracts get London Weighting, but we don’t.

‘My wage is just above the minimum wage. I get £5.90 an hour.

‘The chief executive of Rentokil is on £2.2 million a year,’ added Masters.

‘Surely they can afford to pay the porters and domestics what we are owed?’

UNISON membership clerk, Yvonne Oliver, said: ‘I find it decidedly unfair and unjustified as to why a contract has not been honoured from 2003, and yet in 2006 a contract can be honoured for £2.2 million for nine months’ work for the chief executive.’

Cecilia Adjei said: ‘They owe us £1,450. They are offering £500, it’s an insult.’