10 reasons to support the firefighters' strikes

10 reasons to support the firefighters' strikes

Firefighters in England today walked out on strike for 24 hours in the latest of a series of stoppages in a dispute over massive attacks by the government on their pensions: particularly increasing the retirement age from 55 to 60. Here are the top 10 reasons you should support the firefighters.

1. Because the changes to their pensions are unfair

Firefighters in England are going on strike because the pensions which were promised to them when they began working for the fire service, and which they have paid for every month, are being taken away and the terms changed. The average firefighter pays £4000 a year out of a £29,000 salary, 14% of their income, to their pension scheme.

Imagine if you bought a private pension from a bank, told it would give you a certain dividend when you retired, and you paid in 4 grand a year, every year of your working life. Then 20 years on the bank tells you actually it has changed its mind, you're actually going to get a lot less, and you're going to have to pay a lot more, and you're going to have to wait more years to get it. You would be furious!

2. Because the changes are deliberately aimed at taking their pensions away

Firefighting is a physically demanding job, so there are strict fitness requirements. Firefighters who don't pass regular fitness tests can be sacked on the grounds of incapability. The government's own report into the pension changes showed that in a worst-case scenario, 85% of firefighters won't be able to pass at 60. And that at the moment 66% of firefighters aged 55-60 wouldn't pass.

This means that instead of retiring at 55, or even 60, most firefighters would be sacked for incapability, their pension frozen and then only paid out at the state retirement age (which is now 65-68+, depending on current age).

3. Because they have no alternative

Firefighting is a full-time career with extremely limited development options. Which leaves sacked or retired firefighters in a much worse position to find new employment than many of us. In the past there used to be more office roles which firefighters could be redeployed into if they were no longer fit enough to serve on the front line. However most of these have now been privatised or downgraded and so the jobs are no longer available for redeployment opportunities.

4. Because the changes discriminate against women

Because many women take time off work for pregnancy and maternity leave, more female firefighters will have to work beyond the age of 60 to accrue a full pension.

5. Because the government can afford it

The government plans to save millions of pounds by taking it from firefighters' pensions. But they are happy to spend huge amounts of money elsewhere. Like over £2 billion per year on entirely useless nuclear weapons, hundreds of millions of pounds on bonuses to the bosses at state-owned banks, hundreds of thousands of pounds on champagne for the House of Lords, 10% pay rises for themselves, £4.5 million on doing up a free mansion given to Royals… The list is endless. The reality is that public expenditure is about priorities. And right now the government is prioritising handing taxpayers' money to themselves and their rich mates, and it will stay like this until we do something about it.

6. Because firefighters in the rest of the UK are getting a better deal

Only firefighters in England are still having to take strike action, as the trade dispute has been called off in Northern Ireland following a better offer from the employers, and in Scotland and Wales strike action has been suspended pending further negotiations after an improved offer.

7. Because other government employees get a better deal

Members of the armed forces can retire at 55 after 20 years' service, and have a much cheaper pension scheme. And fitness requirements on soldiers are relaxed as they get older, unlike for firefighters.

8. Because trying to break the strike is wasting money

The government is spending millions of pounds on contractors to cover for striking firefighters. Instead of spending money to try to break the strike, it should just honour the deal it already promised firefighters.

9. Because strikes are one of the only ways ordinary people can make an impact

It is a well-known saying that "if voting actually changed anything, they'd make it illegal". Well successive governments have done their best to make striking illegal, and constantly use the courts (and historically the police and the army) to stop strikes.

This is because strikes can actually change things. As ordinary people, we are mostly pretty powerless to affect the decisions of governments and big companies. However when we band together in huge numbers and use the only power we have - our ability to work, or to refuse work - ultimately we can bring the country, and the economy to a halt. When strikes win, they give hope and can inspire the rest of us to defend and improve our own conditions and pay. Because all workers deserve to be treated better.

And conversely when one group of workers is defeated, it bolsters other employers in attacking their employees, and speeding on the "race to the bottom" in terms of pay and conditions across the economy as a whole.

10. Because they risk their lives to protect the rest of us

They work a dangerous job, with shiftwork and constant antisocial hours to keep us safe. And when needed they are prepared to risk their own lives to save us. So the least we can do in return is support them not having to live out their old age in poverty.

To show your support please Like and share this article. You can also Like the Save the UK Fire Service campaign Facebook page. And why not visit your local picket line to say hello and offer your solidarity? And even better to a collection for the strike fund in your workplace or on your street or estate and take it along.

Comments

jojo
Dec 10 2014 01:45
Quote:
...strikes can actually change things. As ordinary people, we are mostly pretty powerless to affect the decisions of governments and big companies. However when we band together in huge numbers and use the only power we have - our ability to work, or to refuse work - ultimately we can bring the country, and the economy to a halt. When strikes win, they give hope and can inspire the rest of us to defend and improve our own conditions and pay. Because all workers deserve to be treated better.

Well said Steven. As workers, not only do we deserve to be treated better but we know we won't be! Strikes may change things a tiny bit. Or maybe not. Mass strikes, involving workers from different sectors, are much more powerful, and may even lead to revolution. Revolution is the only way to truly change things now.

eao
Dec 11 2014 17:22

Excellent article. Of course my support for any strike action of any sort is unequivocal. Strike because you can! The treatment of firefighters is a disgrace and not only should we support it but we should do whatever we can to support it. This and every struggle.

The Worm Ouroboros
Dec 11 2014 20:03

why would anybody fuck over firefighters? They save people's lives.

I was intending to write only that because I do not understand why anybody would mess with firefighters. That is until I read #5 and #6.

Markus
Dec 12 2014 10:58

Good article, should make those who are unaware realize that Firefighters are not striking because they want MORE, they are striking because what they have paid for over many years and what is rightfully theirs has been taken from them.
The job is dangerous, arduous and requires shift work 365 days a year which sees firefighters working through all the holidays (such as xmas) that others can enjoy with their families. One of the main reasons people chose this difficult job over one that has far better career aspects, annual pay rises and less risk is that they could retire early with a good pension. Now this light at the end of the tunnel has been removed.
If this happened between two companies or two individuals the law would intervene and prevent such an injustice, but as its the government vs the workforce who make them so rich and powerful they can just steal money from wherever they like.

I think point 6 is not required. Not only is it not factual but it almost bad mouths our armed forces of which I was a member for many years. They do a lot more than "kill people" and they have saved MANY more lives than that of the fire service.
They too are having their pensions destroyed by the government although not in the same abhorrent manner. Both parties are evolved in the same struggle against a common enemy that is trying to empty the pockets of the workers to fill the pockets of liars who "run" this country.

One thing that is used in the armed forces (and it's just bloody common sense) is a scale of fitness which moves with age. It is a FACT that fitness declines with age and so demanding someone keep the same fitness level from age 18 to age 60 is massively unrealistic. In the armed forces the level you are required to achieve in your annual fittness test is gradually lowered as you age, WHY could this not be introduced into the fireservice? The answer is because they WANT you to fail because they can STEAL even more away from you.

Noah Fence
Dec 12 2014 11:19
Quote:
I think point 6 is not required. Not only is it not factual but it almost bad mouths our armed forces of which I was a member for many years. They do a lot more than "kill people" and they have saved MANY more lives than that of the fire service.

Markus, are you for real?!!! Besides the hundreds of thousands of lives directly taken by armed forces over the years, as the strong arm of capital the military is complicit in ruining and ending the lives of millions worldwide. If you entered the forces without the knowledge of what their true role is then fair enough, but don't try to justify with arguments such as this.

Markus
Dec 12 2014 11:59

Webby, the firefighters need all the support they can get and putting the label of killers on our Armed Forces, who are widely supported by the majority of the public, will only lessen that support.
I am not trying to "justify" anything.
I entered the forces as I believed (and still do) that I would be working towards a greater good in this world and that I could help people. I did just that, I never killed anyone and helped remove young girls to safety who were sentenced to death for attending school. This is my experience and what I have to go on. When members of my family died taking the war to the Nazis they did so for the greater good and to end the suffering of the innocent. Again this is my past that has moulded my beliefs and my values.
If you detest the armed forces and what they do I can see your point of view and respect it but will never share it. I would never say your beliefs are wrong so please don't insult me by suggesting that mine are.
However, this is not what this article is about, it is about "10 reasons to support the firefighters strikes" and I feel that more support would be given if there were only 9 reasons.

Caiman del Barrio
Dec 12 2014 12:02
Markus wrote:
The job is dangerous, arduous and requires shift work 365 days a year which sees firefighters working through all the holidays (such as xmas) that others can enjoy with their families. One of the main reasons people chose this difficult job over one that has far better career aspects, annual pay rises and less risk is that they could retire early with a good pension. Now this light at the end of the tunnel has been removed.

Good point; this attack on firefighters' conditions really does fly in the face of the typical pro-capitalist trope of how a 'meritocratic' payscale is necessary to ensure people do the most difficult/least rewarding jobs.

Noah Fence
Dec 12 2014 12:20

Markus, I did not intend to insult you and you should not feel insulted. If you think I am wrong that's fine. Disagreement is not insulting or disrespectful.
You make some good points in your first post but I commented as I did because I am a libertarian communist as are most posters on this site, and as such I am fundamentally opposed to all of the apparatus of state, in particular those that violently implement the policies that capital demands.
There are many abhorrent things that are widely supported by the public but that doesn't mean we should shy away from pointing things out, does it?

wojtek
Dec 12 2014 17:33

What was your position in the army if you didn't kill anyone?

Fleur
Dec 12 2014 20:13

Firstly, Hi Markus and welcome smile

The firefighters here are in a similar dispute as in the UK (along with all the public sector workers.)
It is appalling to treat people who literally run into burning buildings to save people, as well as act as first responders in any emergency situation, so badly.

The army thing is a bit of a derail but I think you can hate the military-industrial complex, militarism and war and the state without personally attacking individual members of the military. Certainly there are members of the armed forces who join because of jingoistic reasons but often the reasons why people join up are not that simple. A good friend of mine is ex-military. She joined up to escape an abusive family. She met her husband while in the army, who joined as a way out of small-town poverty and it was the only way he could get an education. Neither of them ever fired a gun in combat. Someone else I vaguely know is ex-US army. He chose to join the army to side-step the school to prison pipeline (his words, not mine.) You can hate a system and engage with people who have been within that system. In fact, some of the most anti-authoritarian attitudes I've come across have come from ex-soldiers.

Steven.
Dec 13 2014 14:46

Markus, thanks for your comments. I actually wrote that article really quickly on the day of the strike and wanted to just get it online. That paragraph I wasn't really happy with, so I have shifted the order and changed it.

My main point was that it's unfair that firefighters are treated worse than soldiers. And the point of this article was to try to get more public support for the firefighters so I don't want something in there which detracts from this message.

I do disagree with the existence of the armed forces as an institution, and the British Army has carried out some appalling crimes. You mention World War II, but even in that conflict it did some terrible things, like help Nazi collaborators massacre anti-Nazi demonstrators in Athens, repress and butcher civilians in the British colonies, including be complicit in the Bengal famine which killed 3 million.

However that said, army policy isn't set by rank-and-file soldiers, any more than I set local government policy by the fact I work for them. And I support rank-and-file members of the armed forces fighting to improve their conditions, or to have influence over what they are made to do, which I've written about previously like in the British West Indies Regiment.

Noah Fence
Dec 13 2014 17:19

I don't know Steven, there are degrees of complicity and like the police which I think nobody around here has any sympathy with, the armed forces step way over the line.
It probably doesn't help that I got a good kicking from a couple of squaddies back in the eighties for being a 'fucking poof'.

Spikymike
Dec 17 2014 12:22

So in a moment of boredom I ended up watching the live TV coverage of the Labour Party's Parliamentary motion to anull the governments' legislation on the English firefighters retirement and pension changes. There was a lot of angry bluster from the Labour MP's and some face saving sympathetic noises from Tory MP's but as presumably everyone expected it was defeated by a hefty margin. Given the FBU deals done in Wales, NI and Scotland you do have to wonder if this battle here is more ideological than financial on the central (and indeed devolved) governments side. The Labour Party of course has managed at little cost to bolster it's image as the worker's friend with the help of the FBU despite what we all know about the LP's past record and expected future in terms of cuts. It seems the firefighters in England are to be left to fight on alone now - a recipe for the future with increased devolution of governmental and local authority powers?

Spikymike
Feb 25 2015 15:29

Another 24 hour strike today.