On the morning of 13th November, FBU members staged a four-hour walkout as part of the campaign to defend pensions, protesting against the raising of the retirement age and the increase in pension contributions of up to 14.2% of salary. Darrall Cozens of the Coventry TUC reports on the latest action by firefighters against the Coalition’s austerity programme.
On the morning of 13th November, FBU members staged a four-hour walkout as part of the campaign to defend pensions, protesting against the raising of the retirement age and the increase in pension contributions of up to 14.2% of salary.
In Coventry, some 20 FBU members staffed the picket line at the central fire station on the Radford Road where the resolve was palpable and the mood jovial, but determined.
FBU members had hoped that talks with the government would yield some concessions, but the government threat of returning to an offer that was made two and a half years ago if industrial action was not called off, has hardened the resolve of firefighters to win this dispute.
We have reported before that no-one in their right mind would expect a firefighter of 60 years of age to be scaling ladders and rescuing people from burning buildings, but as we know th Coaliton has no inkling of what firefighters face in their day-to-day work, so it insists that firefighters must work until they are 60. And even if members of the government did know what the job entailed, they would not care, as for them the burden of reducing government debt has to be borne by working class people even though they did not cause the debt. The burden of saving capitalism from itself has been placed on the shoulders of the working class.
Firefighters now face a stark choice under the government’s proposals. If they are not capable of doing the job due to the effects of the physical and mental stresses that they face, they will either have to resign or be forced to resign with a consequential reduction in pension rights. The days of being transferred to lighter duties while they serve out their time have long gone. Government cuts have almost obliterated backroom staffing.
On the picket line today there was a ceremonial burning of the contract on offer by the FBU rep Nick Harrison. Other heartening news today was that some 16 trainee firefighters in the Midlands had all joined the FBU and were also out on strike. In the past, new firefighters have kept their heads down until they had been fully integrated into brigade life and felt safe to voice their opinions. But such is the feeling over these attacks on pension rights that, even before they have become operational firefighters, they are out on strike.
A government response is now awaited. If there are no concessions, the FBU action will be escalated. That may mean an all-out strike, but at this stage no such decision has been made. What is of importance is that the firefighters’ plight must be taken to all corners of the labour movement to generate support and counter the lies and propaganda of the press. Today on the picket we had both the president and also one of the assistant secretaries of the Coventry TUC present in solidarity. Many vehicles passing by also beeped their horns in support. There is tremendous public sympathy for the firefighters.
After the defeat at Grangemouth, a victory for the FBU could reignite the movement in the fight against the cuts agenda and we know that if the government’s cuts policy is not stopped, it will continue until for at least another decade.
If we do not stop this government, all that we have achieved through struggle in terms of public services will be taken away. Those who own and control this capitalist system demand that the mess their system is in be paid for by the working class. When Labour wins and takes office in 2015, if it does not have a programme to confront capitalism head on, it will have to continue with the Coalition’s programme of cuts. The desire of the Labour leadership to have a “responsible capitalism” is a figment of the imagination. Labour must fight austerity with socialist policies.