Firefighters in England and Wales take strike action on Wednesday 25 September in response to government attacks on firefighters’ pensions which would see them pay more, work longer and receive reduced benefits on retirement.
The four-hour strike is expected to be solid, after a strong yes vote and turn-out. The FBU has invited trade unionists and other supporters to visit picket lines and show solidarity. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary has called it “a warning shot” to the government, implying that further action will follow if no progress is made in negotiations. No further dates have been named.
The action will be the third national strike in the union’s history – the 1977-78 and 2002-03 pay strikes were the other two. However the London FBU, which has been the most vocal in pressing for action in recent weeks, has also expressed disquiet at the decision by the union’s executive council to exempt Scotland FBU members from strike action, in order to discuss proposals tabled by the Scottish government.
The London FBU regional committee submitted an emergency resolution, stating that “We believe that now is not the time for a move away from the unified, joined-up, national campaign of the last two years and towards an acceptance that the outcome for firefighters in this dispute will be determined by geography”.
They point out rightly that “any local settlement would, in reality, set a benchmark upon which it might prove difficult for firefighters elsewhere to improve”.
The motion adds that devolution “does not have to mean devolution in the Fire Brigades Union. This is not about denying the democratic rights of Scotland FBU members. It is about recognising that we are a national union and this is a national campaign. As such, all firefighters have an interest in recent developments in Scotland and are entitled to take a view on them. It cannot conceivably be right, in a national campaign, for a minority of firefighters, by default, to determine the outcome for everyone else”.
These points are important and indicate a potential weak point for further action. The key question firefighters are asking is: after the strike, what next?