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.