Camera crews, reporters and members of the International Socialists (CWI) along with other Scottish Socialist Party members waited outside the Blackness Fire Station in Dundee for the 6 o’clock start to the first national fire strike in 25 years.
On the picket line in Scotland
At 6.OOpm exactly, the red doors of the fire station opened and 2 lines of fire-fighters marched out to form a guard of honour for the FBU banner. It was carried by veterans of the last strike in 1977.
SSP members cheered, holding up placards announcing full support for the strike and the pay claim. We were invited by FBU Branch Secretary Jim Malone, who had earlier explained the reasons for the strike to an SSP branch meeting.
After the media left, we got talking to fire-fighters about their concerns. A driver with only 2 years service left said that he would not benefit for long from a pay award but was fighting "for the future generations of fire-fighters." The mood was extremely confident and determined. All the fire-fighters stressed that the Bain report was an insult, and striking was their last option. Cars going past tooted in support.
Over the next 2 days, we continued to attend the picket lines. Jim Malone our support had been "superb". "The strike has been absolutely solid. We are prepared for a long drawn out dispute if it comes to that. But I do think that between now and next week there is a window of opportunity." He explained that this had to involve a serious offer on pay for negotiations to succeed.
Jim explained to us that firefighters were determined that their campaign for decent pay would benefit all public sector workers. He welcomed support and encouraged people to attend picket lines and discuss with firefighters. On the safety issues he told us that "it has been the firefighters themselves that have had to fight to ensure they had the best equipment and training over the years. It is sheer hypocrisy for politicians to now be showing concern on that point." "Every proposed modernisation carried out in the fire service has come from the FBU themselves not the employers or government. "
Jim Malone also made the important point that: "The Bain report is a preparation for privatisation. No way is it independent. The Labour Research report, which was independent, came up with the £30,000 figure."
Fire-fighter Paddy Connelly spoke at length about the years of training which is required to become a fire-fighter. One example he gave was the cutting gear used to free car crash victims. Although the young soldiers on the green goddesses could be shown how to use the gear to cut metal in a couple of days, this would not prepare them for a rescue. The order in which the parts of the vehicle is cut, how the victim is supported during the attempt, and other factors take a long time to learn. Of great importance is the way an experienced team work together to fight fires and save lives.
Whatever happens next, the fire-fighters deserve the full support of the entire working class.
Members of the Committee For a Workers’ International (CWI) in Scotland have been actively builidng solidarity for the firefighters. Below we report some of the work we have been doing during the first 48 hour FBU strike in November.
I work as ateacher in the local Brannock High School in Newarthill. As soon as the strike started I typed up a letter of solidarity and 39 members of the teachers union, the EIS signed in support of the striking firefighters. I took it to the picket line and the firefighters were delighted. It turns out I taught one of the FBU member at school. Colin Mackie told me that "We have had great public support and it’s very encouraging. We’ve had people bringing us hot rolls and food while we’re on the picket lines." The next day in school his son came up to me and said the firefighters had been delighted by the letter of support from the teachers in the school and wanted to sign the letter of support themselves.
Ray Gunnion, Bellshill
FBU reps from Castlemilk Station attended an SSP public meeting and from this a Castlemilk Support Group has been established. As a Unison rep/community worker in Castlemilk, I’ve arranged speaking opportunties for the FBU in the area in the last few days.
We have also drawn up a resolution (see below) to go to the Glasgow UNISON Social Work AGM in support of the firefighters.
Brian Smith, Castlemilk
Resolution: This meeting wholeheartedly supports the current national strike by the Fire Brigades Union and agrees that firefighters should be paid a fair wage for the professional service they provide to our communities. The current wage of £21,000, reached only after four years training, is inadequate. The claim of £30,000, based on independent research which made comparisons with other professionals and updated the existing pay review arrangements, is justified and reasonable.
This meeting believes that the Government has intervened on at least two occasions to undermine the negotiations between the FBU and the national employers. The first to avoid an improvement on the employers original 4% offer, and the second to push the "modernisation" of the Fire Service. This modernisation represents nothing more than an attack on firefighters conditions of service and lays the basis for the privatisation of key elements of the Fire Service. The Government seems intent on picking a fight with one of the strongest and best organised trade unions. A victory for the firefighters will be a victory for all workers in the public sector. Social workers, teachers, nurses, clericals, support workers, home helps and domestics should also be paid a fair wage for the services they provide.
This meeting is clear that the money exists to pay public sector workers a fair wage. It is a choice. Fat cat salaries, tax cuts for the rich, the bombing of Iraq, inflation busting pay rises for MPs and new Parliament buildings or fair pay for those who provide services to our communities and modernisation that does not mean cost cutting and privatisation.
The dispute is key in the fight for fair wages across the public sector and this meeting urges all Glasgow City Unison members to assist the firefighters in their current struggle. All members should argue the case of the firefighters, give what financial support they can and get involved in local FBU support groups.
I attended the picket line at Macalpine Road, Dundee and handed over a letter of support and solidarity from our Social Work Dept UNISON Shop Stewards Committee to Harry Stewart the Branch Secretary there. He says the mood is still strong and members are determined to win a fair pay claim. He also said "that if 40% was good enough for Tony Blair then its certainly not unreasonable for firefighters" I was thanked by a number of firefighters for our support and they all commented on how important it is to know that other trade unionists are fully behind them. They have been really surprised at the level of support given by the public and disgusted at some of the reporting in the media. They hoped for a fair resolution to the dispute, but were also prepared to continue their action as long as is necessary.
In my Union branch, it was myself and other CWI members that proposed that our policy should be that UNISON members would not provide firewatch cover during the strike. Management wanted members to work overtime to stay in empty buildings overnight. We also successfully proposed that a firefighter is invited to speak at our next meeting and that we offer support where we can. We have forced management to ensure that all Health & Safety evacuation regulations were in place for the strike and that all risk and fire assessments were done to ensure the safety of our members and service users, much to their annoyance. We have demanded copies of all assessments.
This article was printed in the November issue of the International Socialilst, monthly paper of the International Socialists, the CWI’s section in Scotland. To receive a regular copy write to CWI, PO Box 6773, Dundee, DD1 1YL or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org