Firefighters across Essex walked out on strike at 10am on Thursday morning in protest against cuts to frontline service across the county.
The eight hour action was the first of five strikes announced by the FBU union in their long-running dispute with Essex fire authority.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack joined strikers outside Brentwood fire station this morning. The station is threatened with losing one of its full-time fire engines.
“We’re fighting cuts to fire services all over the country—and for us, Essex is the front line,” he told Socialist Worker. The FBU is calling a demonstration against fire service cuts in Essex on 18 July, he added.
Essex fire authority is cutting frontline services despite a lack of budget cuts over all. Some 100 full-time and 60 part-time posts have been axed in the county since 2008.
Nick Mayes is Essex FBU’s assistant secretary and has worked as a firefighter at Brentwood for over 25 years. “The management think they can provide the same level of service with fewer firefighters,” he told Socialist Worker.
“We’re saying that’s an impossibility. You can have as many fire engines as you want—without firefighters to crew them they’re just sitting pretty.”
This situation isn’t confined to Essex, said Matt Wrack. “There are a few fire authorities that are building their reserves and still making cuts. Essex is not the only one.”
The fire authority should be scrutinising the plans put forward by senior managers rather than simply rubberstamping them, Nick Mayes added.
Job cuts for frontline firefighters coincide with what one striker described as a “corporate expansion” by the fire authority—plush new headquarters, bloated IT budgets, flash cars for senior officers. “You get a similar thing in all public services,” Nick noted.
The management response to the strike has been heavy-handed. Firefighters have been banned from holding union meetings on fire service premises or setting foot on them while on strike. There have also been persistent threats of disciplinary action against strikers from management.
The next strike dates are set for 7 July, 18 July, 18 August and 18 October. The 18 July strike, which coincides with the Essex demo, is scheduled to last for 24 hours.