In an impressive show of strength, thousands of uniformed fire-fighters marched through the streets of London today to protest at the London Fire Brigade’s attempt to bully them into accepting new contracts that impose new shift patterns.
Of course, this dispute isn’t just about shift changes – it’s about trying to force through cuts that will also mean station closures and cuts to the fire service, endangering both firefighters’ jobs and conditions as well as Londoners’ safety.
London Fire Brigades Union members were joined by delegations and their banners from across the country. Amid chants and boos for the Fire Authority members, speakers from the FBU and other unions bringing solidarity - like the RMT, NUT and PCS – were warmly applauded.
Speaking as a member of the NUT National Executive for Inner London, I asked why we should see our services cut to pay off the bankers’ gambling debts?. Unions had to take a simple message to our members – “Cuts Cost Lives”.
For example, I had just been told that morning that Lewisham wanted to slash posts in our Health and Safety Team so that not a single school-specific adviser would be left. That will mean risks not assessed, accidents taking place, leading to injuries and even deaths. But when schools call the fire service for help, stations may have been closed and fire-fighters unable to respond in time if the cuts go through.
The Fire Brigade’s shabby ultimatum to accept new contracts had been given the answer it deserved by the fantastic turnout at the lobby. But if they don’t back down – and the FBU are forced to take action – then they must not fight alone.
Teachers and other public sector workers face our own attacks on jobs, pensions and the services we provide to our communities. We have to link our battles together in a co-ordinated struggle. Right away, NUT school groups and Local Associations should be sending in messages of support and organising for FBU members to visit them to explain their dispute.
The proposed march in London on Saturday October 23rd also gives a great opportunity for teachers to show their support for workers already in dispute like firefighters and tubeworkers – and to show this ‘demolition’ Government that we’re not going to sit back and accept their cuts.
As I concluded at the lobby, we have to say “No Cuts, No Mass Sackings, Solidarity with the FBU!”