Firefighters took industrial action over three days last week as the FBU’s pensions long-running battle escalated.
Firefighters in England and Wales took strike action between noon and 5pm on 2 May, between 2pm on 3 May and 2am on 4 May and between 10am and 3pm on Sunday 4 May. In addition, there was a ban on voluntary overtime across England and Wales from 3pm on 4 May until noon on 9 May, and in Scotland a ban on voluntary overtime between noon on 2 May and noon on 9 May.
The action was provoked by the prevarication and evasiveness of the Westminster government, despite months of fresh negotiations and a delay of 17 weeks since the last strike. The FBU wrote to the government last month, asking it to table its new proposals from the recent talks by 24 April. When no offer was forthcoming, these strike dates were set.
After the strike dates were set, the fire minister Brandon Lewis told the union that the government was no longer willing to discuss the issue and would now impose their original proposals. It then turned out in a leaked letter to fire service employers that the government has had fully-costed alternatives ready since 19 March, but failed to provide them to the FBU.
This has further exacerbated the anger among firefighters about the pension proposals. During discussions, the government has admitted there are huge problems expecting firefighters to work to 60 – yet it has refused to provide any written guarantee to address these concerns. Firefighters fear they will be sacked or get half the pension they have paid for.
The dispute seems set to rumble on and may well escalate. It comes at a time of industrial action in other sectors, including the tube and in education. It is vital that socialists, activists and trade unionists support these industrial battles.