Firefighters rally to denounce cuts
A World to Win reporting team
Thousands of firefighters from around the country rallied in London on Wednesday to denounce cuts to jobs, pay, pensions and conditions.
At a mass rally in Westminster Central Halls 2,500 firefighters gave a standing ovation to victimised station manager, Sian Griffiths, who was suspended the day after receiving the Queen’s Award for bravery. Griffiths is being victimised, her colleagues believe, for her stand during the recent London FBU strike.
Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said frontline jobs had been cut under the Labour government while back-office positions and chief officer teams had increased.
Now the coalition had set about “dismantling” the service. He told a rally: "We are now seeing daft ideas such as increasing the role of the voluntary sector and individual stations being allowed to opt out of fire service control.
"They have already privatised fire engines, now there are private contractor strike-breakers. How sickening, when people are hit by a fire, facing injury or even death, to hear people talk about it as if it was a market."
Wrack said unions should fight disputes together, warning: "If it means striking together, then so be it. We are entering the fight of our lives, the like of which we have never seen before."
He added: “We reject the race to the bottom. We want to hand on decent well-paid jobs to the next generation. Keep your greedy parasitic hands off our fire services. We won’t allow the clock to be turned back 70 years. We stand together. We will not be broken.”
After the rally, firefighters massed in the road outside the Houses of Parliament blocking both sides of the road for about half an hour. A limousine carrying Prince Philip was blocked in and surrounded for several minutes.
Hardly any FBU members opted to queue up and see their MPs, preferring instead to march slowly down the side of Parliament Square and into Whitehall, with placards and banners. They stopped outside Downing Street shouting and chanting before dispersing.
Robert Spring, crew manager of the White Watch, at Southwark fire station, said: “We are here lobbying our members of Parliament because of the cuts being brought in to the fire service as a whole and not just for London. But London has also got the problem at the moment because of the threat to sack which is still on.
“Management took 27 appliances and took them off the run and gave them to AssetCo because of the strike. The problem now is that we still haven’t got them back. It’s not us who are suffering – it’s the public. We are now nearly 30 appliances down covering London.
“London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson has said they would not cut fire cover and no one would lose their jobs. He said live on air that they would not cut jobs. But taking 27 fire engines out equates to 500 jobs.
“The sackings were brought in on the back of the cuts. This was planned well before the Lib Cons came in. They want to make it easier to sack our members.”
Bob Walker, chair of the FBU in Devon and Somerset, said: “We don’t know exactly what the cuts will be. The announcement will be in the first week of December. There are due to be 25% cuts. If that cascades to Devon and Somerset that means 10% in our overall budget which is about £7.9m.
“There could be 120 to 200 jobs – we are quite a big service – it will affect front line services. We are very worried about the Comprehensive Spending Review in general. It’s attacking every working class person in the country with no exception.
“We don’t know what is going to happen in the future. The Labour Party absolutely started the cuts. In terms of the firefighters who came out on strike in London – it is a dispute which is very much in progress. For a Labour leader then to come out and support the attacks of the right wing press is even worse!
“In actual fact it is just a neo-liberal state in which they want to attack the working class people, and destroy everything we stand for and the rich become richer.”
Pete Greaves, brigade chair Norfolk County FBU, said he agreed that the TUC calling a demonstration for March 2011 was very little and very late.
“As a union we will have to go out the doors eventually. There is no other way to make the government take notice. They have been ignoring us and we will go away today and they will still ignor us.”
Dale Cammidge, a crew manager also from Norfolk, said: “We are going to lose 36 fire fighting positions. These are front line staff. They are not back room staff. These are people sitting on fire engines 24/7 that we are going to lose and the machines are going to be lost as well.”
17 November 2010
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