Fire-fighters walk out across Wales

FBU members determined to defend pensions

Fire-fighters rally at the Senedd

"We should all be out. That’s the only way we’ll beat them.” This sentiment - that there should be a general strike - was repeated again and again as fire-fighters across Wales struck for four hours today. Other strikers said that they thought that longer, sustained strike action would be needed.

At 12.00 mid day fire-fighters walked out of work across Wales and England. After two years of protracted negotiations, the ConDems are steaming ahead with their proposals that will mean that like other public sector workers, fire-fighters will have to work longer to get a worse pension and pay more for it. Yet again, this fat cat government is forcing workers to pay the price for a crisis caused by the bankers and big business.

The FBU have identified the fact that all fire-fighters will now have to work until 60 as a key attack on their members. At the moment, two-thirds are in the pre- 2006 scheme where fire-fighters can get their full pension at 55 (or 50 after 25 years’ service). However, the new scheme is a sinister attempt to get rid of workers on capability.

The government’s own report found that half of all fire-fighters will not be fit to work beyond 55 and that two-thirds would not be fit enough at 60. In the worst case scenario, 85% would not be fit to work beyond 55!

For fire-fighters, this is the last straw. In every area, stations are being closed by representatives from all the main¬stream parties. Just as with the NHS, fire-fighters will be stigmatised by politicians and the right-wing press if brutal cuts put people at risk.

But just as with the fight to defend the health ser¬vice, the most likely way to succeed is through a mass campaign of resistance led by the trade unions and their members with mass co-ordinated strike action at its core. In Swansea the trades council has put out a press release containing a statement of support for FBU strikers and pointing out that public safety and the quality of the fire and rescue services are at risk along with fire-fighters’ pensions.

In Wales, fire-fighters are angry at the stance of the Welsh Labour government which has refused to take measures to ensure the fire-fighters’ pensions are protected.

Hundreds of strikers from south-east Wales descended on the Welsh Assembly where an enthusiastic rally was held that breaking into spontaneous applause for the strike and showed just how determined the fire-fighters are to defend their rights.

Fire chiefs had upset a number of retired former fire-fighters by trying to recruit them to a scab force to break strike action. Some of these had denounced this practice in the South Wales Evening Post. Strikers told us that they knew people who had applied to join the brigade and been accepted but told that there weren’t any current vacancies; they had then received written invitations to provide cover for today’s strike. FBU members also believe that fire-fighters willing to work today, had been brought to Swansea from as far away as Aberystwyth.

Mid and West Wales service bosses had created scab HQ in a training centre at Earlswood, on the approaches to Swansea. FBU members picketing the site were delighted by a CWU member refusing to deliver post to the site and pledged to support the CWU in turn when they take strike action against privatisation of Royal Mail.

At the most visible station, there was a constant honking of car horns by passers-by to show support. Some of the picket lines were small but more than one fire-fighter told us that they didn’t want to picket at their station because they didn’t want to be asked to go out on a shout. There was a determination to fight but many strikers thought that the FBU’s best chance of defeating the government is as part of wider action, involving other unions. They all agreed with the idea of a 24 hour general strike on the NSSN leaflets we distributed. Several copies of the Socialist were sold on picket lines in Swansea.

The Socialist Party believes that if the TUC and the unions called a 24-hour general strike, it would unite behind six million organised workers the millions suffering from the ConDem cuts in an unstoppable force that could force Cameron and co into retreat or even out of office. This isn’t a strong government, as the vote on Syria showed.

Already this autumn, the teachers are committed to strike action and the PCS are still in dispute. Royal Mail work¬ers are balloting against privatisation and unions from UCU and Unison in higher education to NAPO are poised to join in. If all these unions and more along with the FBU picked a date to strike together, it would be a massive step in the right direction for the mass joint strike action that can force the ConDems back and hopefully out.

Victory to the fire-fighters!

Alec Thraves and Dave Reid

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