More than 3,000 London firefighters surrounded their bosses’ headquarters today (Thursday)—as their union called a strike ballot.
The London FBU members, joined by firefighters from across the country and other workers, marched on today’s London fire authority meeting to demand it withdraws a threat to sack them all.
But despite the mass march, Tory boss Brian Coleman—hiding out in his bunker in fire authority headquarters—refused to go back on the sackings. He is determined to use them to tear up firefighters’ contracts and force through worse shifts.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack told the rally, “The fire authority has refused to withdraw the sacking notices today.
“Therefore we have, this afternoon, faxed the fire authority formal notice that the strike ballot will commence in seven days’ time.”
The announcement was met with a huge roar from the crowd.
London’s firefighters were already voting on industrial action short of a strike. “They will see our response tomorrow—an overwhelming yes vote for action short of a strike,” said Matt Wrack.
“And when we now start our ballot for strikes, that will be a huge yes vote as well, I’m confident of it.
“We won’t allow ourselves to be bullied. You don’t negotiate with a gun to your head. We stick together on the fire ground—and we’ll stick together on the picket line as well.”
The firefighters, many dressed in formal uniform, marched from London’s Aldwych, down the Strand and across the Thames to the bosses’ headquarters in Southwark.
They blew whistles and chanted “get Coleman out”—a wall of noise that union officials say could clearly be heard from inside the bosses’ meeting.
London FBU executive council member Ian Leahair added, “When we had 300 to 400 out here protesting at their last meeting, they said ‘what a small turnout’. Well I say to them: look again!
“Let’s make it clear to that Tory bully in there,” he said to the crowd. “Are you prepared to strike if you have to?” The shout of “yes” in response was deafening.
Ryan Moore, a Clapham firefighter, told Socialist Worker, “No one wants to strike—but if it comes down to it it’s what we’ll have to do.
“We don’t want to put public safety in danger, but it’s the bosses cutting jobs and changing shifts who are really putting people at risk.
“This is really about cuts to night-time fire cover. As it stands, if there are two to three big fires in London on the same day everything grinds to a halt. What will it be like if they get away with making cuts?”
“It’s an excellent turnout—everyone’s really passionate about this”, added Shoreditch firefighter Simon Woloham.
“This is a fight we’re prepared to see through to the end.”
The London firefighters were joined by delegations from as far away as Devon and Yorkshire, and even Scotland.
“We fought 12-hour shifts in Tayside two years ago, so we know the struggle the comrades in London are facing,” Jim Malone, FBU regional organiser for Scotland, told Socialist Worker.
“There are FBU members here from Tayside, Lothian, Strathclyde, Fife—all over Scotland.
“This attack is felt across the country. We will stand shoulder to shoulder to defeat Coleman and the rest.
“Today has shown the FBU is ready for this.”
Unison and GMB members, who work for the fire authority, also joined the march. They have their own disputes with the bosses over plans to cut redundancy packages.
The firefighters’ strike ballot will now begin next Thursday, 23 September.
The result of their ballot for action short of a strike is set to be announced tomorrow.
For more pictures and voices from the protest, see next week’s Socialist Worker, out Tuesday.