Sunday, August 31, 2008

2006: Firefighters strike against proposed cuts to services

On 31st August 2006, Merseyside Fire Brigades Union began strike action over cuts of £3.5 million proposed by Merseyside Fire Authority. Despite a sustained anti-FBU campaign by the Daily Post and Liverpool Echo, the untion succeeded in moving the cuts away from frontline services.

The dispute first got mainstream media attention in June, when Merseyside FBU representatives began meeting Fire Authority officials to protest against proposals to cut £3.5 million from the budget.

When Authority officials refused to budge, the FBU balloted its members about taking strike action. The result was announced in late August, with 71% of the 890 members who returned their ballot papers voting for strike action.

The first four day strike began on 31st August, with 170 former firefighters crossing the picket line and providing a minimal service, in return for time and a half. From the start, local newspapers served as a mouthpiece for Fire Authority bosses, and in particular Chief Fire Officer Tony McGuirk. The Territorial Army - who provided cover during the 2002-03 national firefighters strike - were stationed in occupied Afghanistan, and this was used as a stick with which to beat the FBU.

More than two weeks later, the Fire Authority had refused to back down, so firefighters were still on strike. The FBU held a massive march and rally in Liverpool city centre, at which around five thousand firefighters from around the country, assorted trade unionists and Merseyside-based well-wishers expressed their solidarity with the strikers.

On 29th September, after nearly four weeks of strike action against the to the Merseyside fire service, Fire Brigades Union negotiators agreed to implement £3.5 million of 'savings', the details of which can be read here. At no stage had the FBU raised the possibility of finding the money elsewhere in the government's budget (for example in military operations), meaning debate was always limited to where the axe would fall within the fire service.

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