The week 14-20 October was a tumultuous one for the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) with a successful demonstration in London. However the second pensions strike, due on 19 October, was postponed after last-minute movement from employers and the government.
Firefighters marched through the rain on Wednesday 16 October in a national demonstration against cuts and the pensions attack. The mood was positive and there were large delegations from across the UK, with sizeable numbers of younger firefighters. Going past Downing Street, a section of the demo rushed the gates shouting “you don’t know what you’re doing” at Number 10.
Most were anticipating taking strike action on Saturday 19 October. However the FBU’s executive received a letter from the employers on 17 October setting out similar principles on fitness and capability to the Scottish government document produced last month.
The shift on the part of national (i.e. UK-wide) employers and endorsed by the Westminster fire minister, is significant. It recognises that the “no job, no pension” issue raised by the FBU for firefighters beyond 55, is real. It also suggests ways firefighters could retire at 55 with an unreduced pension.
The leadership favoured postponing strikes because employers and government moved on a central strand of the dispute, namely the implications of working longer. FBU members in Scotland voted not to strike on a similar fitness and capability formula last month. The new promises do not include the additional protection pledged in Scotland, nor does it deal with wider issues like contributions.
However, the FBU reports that at a meeting with employers on Monday 21 October, no guarantees were provided because of the way the pension regulations are framed. That puts the ball back in the court of the Westminster government to change the law. The dispute is far from over.
Shelving the strike has started a debate within the union. On Monday, the London FBU regional committee unanimously criticised the decision and called for the immediate announcement of at least a 24-hour strike.
A meeting of the union’s local officials this Friday will discuss the situation and the strategy for further action.