London firefighters will ballot for strike action unless their employer, the London fire authority, withdraws its threat to summarily dismiss the entire workforce and re-employ them on worsened terms and conditions.
A ballot for action short of a strike is already underway and, following mass meetings involving over 1,500 workers, morale and confidence seem high.
The fire authority's chairman is the Tory Brian Coleman who, according to FBU leader Matt Wrack, has been “itching for a scrap with London’s firefighters for a long time.” Coleman himself takes home nearly £120,000 a year and is well-known for his profligate expense claims.
At the root of the dispute is Coleman's plan to make significant cuts to night-time fire cover. Currently, a firefighter's day shift is 9 hours. A night shift is 15 hours, including several hours of vital rest time. As most fire-related deaths occur between 2 and 5am, it is essential that firefighters on night shifts are well-rested and alert.
Coleman wants to reduce the night shift to 12 hours (by cutting out the rest time) and, eventually, reduce the cover substantially; a leaked document hinted at the possibility of reducing the cover through “the removal of 10 appliances”, meaning fire engines.
The ballot for action short of a strike ends on 17 September and, according to an FBU press release, industrial action could begin on 24 September if a yes vote is returned.
With the media inevitably clamouring to paint this dispute as one of privileged workers selfishly striking to defend their own perks against the public interest, firefighters must link up with other London workers in an almost identical position; the anti-cuts dispute on the tube has been similarly portrayed, but a united propaganda offensive between the FBU and the tube unions could help turn the tide of public opinion away from ire at striking workers and towards anger at the bosses unilaterally driving through cuts.