We publish here a letter from Bob Faulkes, a Socialist Appeal supporter from Hackney Labour and Unison, who comments on the recent closure of ten fire stations in London, which were shut for good without any resistance from the firefighters’ leaders. What is required is a strong leadership at the top to match the fighting spirit of the workers.
The picture on the front page of the Guardian newspaper for January 10th said it all. After finishing their final shift, Clerkenwell Fire Station was about to close for good. The picture was of an emotional firefighter about to be made redundant. Welcome to the New Year and the nightmare that is Tory Britain! For this firefighter along with 550 others, this was to be their reward for years of dedicated service, risking their lives on a daily basis, doing one of the most dangerous jobs you could have.
The workers of Clerkenwell along with those in the other London stations had gone through the blitz with all that entailed and then continued into peacetime with all the risks of providing a service in one of the biggest cities in the world. Sometimes a firefighter would pay the ultimate price, everyday they would know that they would have to deal with the horrors that only fire can bring. For this they have earned the respect of Londoners down the generations.
Now the Mayor together with his cronies at City Hall has dealt a grievous blow to our fire service. 552 redundancies, 10 stations shut – all this to a service that has already seen closures and cuts over the years.
They say that the cuts will not affect services. Tell that to those who will face death, injury and loss as a result – fires are no respecter of spreadsheets. Interestingly many of the closed stations cover inner city areas of the capital where the poorest people are to be found. The Tories are gambling with your lives. Meanwhile Clerkenwell station is set to be converted into luxury flats for the rich.
Many councillors opposed the cuts but local authorities relied on the courts to do their fighting for them. However, the law is no friend of the working class. The only force we can rely on for victory is the organised strength and action of the trade union and Labour movement. By putting all their eggs in a legal basket the councils came up against Tory law, Tory justice, which ruled that the closures were legal. The Fire Fighters union and the local Labour leaders should have been prepared for this and warned people in advance what to expect. Firefighters were already involved in action over pensions so taking action over closures would have seemed like a nature extension of that struggle.
Anger and despair over court decisions is understandable but it was naive to believe that the courts might go against their class and rule against the cuts. As this stand these closures have gone down as a defeat alongside that of Grangemouth and Royal Mail privatisation.
It was a defeat without a real fight – no mass rallies, no strike ballots, no nothing. In the 1970s workers took to occupying factories under threat of closure. It needed the fight to move onto the political plain, linking all the struggles together but at least they fought and showed the bosses that they were not going to take this lying down. Workers have shown that they are prepared to fight together to defend hospitals under threat, so why not our fire service?
What is required is a strong leadership at the top to match the fighting spirit of the workers. Verbal opposition is not enough, what are required are deeds. The Tories will carry on cutting, it is what their system demands. They will never turn the clock back and restore what has been lost. New battles are looming and we need a leadership ready to fight them.