Saturday, 23 October 2010

Barnet firefighters: solid strike - public support needed

I went round to Hendon fire station this morning to say hello to the firefighters due to go out on strike. The shift had turned up for work at 9am; at 9.45am one engine "got a shout" and left the station. Their colleagues, including firefighters from other stations in Barnet, heeded the strike call (after all, 79% of them voted for it) and prepared for an eight-hour picket. At around 10.30 they were joined by their colleagues back from their shout.

AssetCo had been due to run an engine from Hendon. No one knew quite where they were; the engine did not arrive while I was there. There were rumours that the 27 engines, taken in the past few days from fire stations around London, had been stationed at Southwark overnight.

The firefighters told me that six people were needed to crew each engine. That means that AssetCo's workforce must be about 162 people. 100 stations will have been without cover today. It's doubtful whether even the AssetCo crewed engines were fully operational.

Morale was high on the picket line but it's true to say, I think, that the firefighters are bemused by what is happening to them. Their union is prepared to negotiate over possible changes to shift patterns; but they cannot do anything when the whole workforce of 5,600 firefighters is threatened with the sack. The 90-day notice that London Fire Brigade, and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority with its chair Brian Coleman behind it, has issued to firefighters runs out in mid-November. What will happen next depends to a large extent on what ordinary Londoners do in the next few days and weeks.

There is a lot that we can do to support the firefighters. Email a message of support to Visit the fire stations on the next strike day - this is scheduled for Monday 1 November, between 10am and 6pm. You could visit your local station from 9am when crews are likely to be getting ready for the strike. Write a letter to your councillor, MP or GLA member. Yes, even if that happens to be Brian Coleman. He needs to know that he does not have the support of Londoners for his attacks on the FBU.

Keep up to date with the London FBU website.

There are a few of my pictures here of Hendon fire station, and also of the march against cuts in central London today which, naturally, featured the FBU.

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