London firefighters have voted overwhelmingly to back industrial action short of a strike to oppose the sacking of the entire workforce and have announced a ballot for strike action in seven days if London Fire Authority bosses do not back down.
“We will go out on strike”
Hackney firefighters were amongst the 2,500 Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members from all over London who marched yesterday to lobby the fire authority in Union Street, Southwark. A Hackney union official, who asked not to be named, told East London Lines: “We’re standing up against the fact that they want to sack us for opposing changes to our conditions of service that will be much worse. We have no choice but to vote for strike action. Unless the fire authority chiefs show that they’re willing to go to consultation, we will go out on strike.”
In August, the London Fire Brigade, which is in charge of London’s fire and emergency services, informed the FBU that all London’s 5,557 firefighters would be sacked and only those who accepted what the union regards as draconian new conditions of service would be re-engaged. Today’s results show that 95% – 4,014 out of 4,222 votes cast – of those who voted in today’s ballot back action short of a strike, described to East London Lines by FBU regional official Paul Emery as ‘the withdrawal of goodwill – so no overtime or voluntary activities’. He said he hoped today’s result would convince the London Fire Brigade to reconsider, but that otherwise the union was confident of winning the next ballot, to be held in seven days, for full strike action.
Responding to today’s FBU ballot result, London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said: “The strength of feeling regarding the proposals to change start and finish times has always been fully understood, and reflected in the length of time we have been discussing these changes. But many workers in the wider public sector and in the private sector are experiencing changes and firefighters cannot be exempt.
“We are still very much in talks with the union to reach a compromise and are now seeking the involvement of national negotiators to bring this longstanding matter to a conclusion, especially in light of the most recent announcement that the union is to re-ballot members for a full strike.”
More than two thousand firefighters marched over Waterloo Bridge to the London Fire Brigade headquarters on Thursday to lobby a meeting of the London fire authority ahead of the ballot result. The demonstrators blew vuvuzelas and whistles and loudly cheered union speakers who addressed the crowd and, referring to the Chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, shouted “Coleman out! Coleman out!” FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack warned that cuts of 25% to the service – which he described as ‘lunacy’ – were planned and told the crowd: “We are prepared to negotiate but you don’t negotiate with a gun to your head…nobody wants to take strike action, but we are not willing to be pushed around and treated with contempt.” He accused fire authorities of heading down the road of privatisation and intending to sell off parts of the service to organisations like Asset Co, saying “Keep your greedy, parasitic hands off our fire service”.
Meanwhile, a poll commissioned this week by YouGov shows that 85 per cent of the public oppose plans to cut funding for the fire service and 95 per cent want to see numbers of frontline firefighters stay the same or increase.