Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How Could Fire Station Closures Be Prevented?

Firefighter Alex Badcock (right)'s tears captured the mood and the media attention
The scenes at fire stations across London last week were very sad ones indeed. Ten were shuttered for the final time, to comply with Mayor Boris Johnson's plans to save £45 million - i.e. make that money available for elite interests.

Five hundred and eighty eight jobs were lost, as shifts ended at Belsize, Bow, Clerkenwell, Downham, Kingsland, Knightsbridge, Silvertown, Southwark, Westminster and Woolwich. The station at Clerkenwell was Europe's oldest, having served the local community for 141 years.

During Johnson's fraudulent 'consultation' on the cuts, 94% of London respondents opposed his plans. In response, the number of station closures was slightly reduced, but the number of job losses was increased. The commissioner of the London fire brigade has predicted that the cuts will result in delayed response times. Paul Embery, London regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), was more explicit about what this will mean: "Boris Johnson will have blood on his hands. It will be only a matter of time before someone dies because a fire engine did not get to them in time."

It was yet another episode in the ruling class austerity drive, which aims to reduce government spending to a bare minimum, and sell off every aspect of social provision, under the guise of tackling government's debts. This neoliberalism raises the spectre of a long gone age, when private firefighters only tackled fires affecting insured buildings. Of course, fires would quickly spread from uninsured to insured properties, bringing home to the rich the need for a free, municipal service.

London is far from alone in facing cuts to fire service provision, with authorities across the country being told to make millions of pounds worth of cuts to their operations. On Merseyside for instance, the number of engines has been slashed by one third over the last three years, and worse is yet to come. Yet the FBU bureaucracy has refused to draw the obvious link between cuts in London at cuts nationwide, pointing the finger at Boris Johnson as an individual, rather than even the Conservative Party as a whole, never mind the coalition government, or the financial elites. And industrial action of any kind was never raised as a possibility. When England and Wales firefighters struck against pension cuts in December, the union tops did not make any connection to the station closures and job losses. Instead, the London anti-closures campaign was kept isolated, and limited to a legal challenge with a "moral argument" and a website.

So the closures began to take on an air of inevitability, and anger gave way to the sorrow on display last Thursday. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack's Twitter feed collected this sadness, but gave no indication of how it could been prevented, or how future closures can be stopped before they get any further into the planning.

Of course, it's not easy to come up with such a strategy. That task falls to the mass rank and file, who must now know that Wrack will do nothing effective to protect their jobs, their pensions, and the services that communities depend on. I can appreciate that when you already have massive public support, such as the London consultation demonstrated, a strike might not be the best idea. After all, if there are no serious incidents during the strike period, the media would try to say it showed the minimal need for a fire service!

But consider a totally different scenario. What if the firefighters had simply refused to leave the stations at the end of their shifts on Thursday? What if they had announced that they would continue protecting the community, and asked the community to come out and protect them? What if they had put out a call to all others facing 'austerity' workplace attacks - including firefighters all over England and Wales - to form a rank and file committee of resistance?
The FBU’s regional secretary for London, Paul Embery, said: “Boris Johnson will have blood on his hands. It will be only a matter of time before someone dies because a fire engine did not get to them in time.
“You cannot close ten fire stations and slash nearly 600 firefighter jobs without compromising public safety.
- See more at: http://union-news.co.uk/2014/01/join-protests-across-london-fire-stations-close-doors-last-time/#sthash.TpAt06gw.dpuf
The commissioner of the London Fire Brigade has predicted that the cuts will result in delayed response times to four million Londoners. - See more at: http://union-news.co.uk/2014/01/join-protests-across-london-fire-stations-close-doors-last-time/#sthash.TpAt06gw.dpuf
The commissioner of the London Fire Brigade has predicted that the cuts will result in delayed response times to four million Londoners. - See more at: http://union-news.co.uk/2014/01/join-protests-across-london-fire-stations-close-doors-last-time/#sthash.TpAt06gw.dpuf
The commissioner of the London Fire Brigade has predicted that the cuts will result in delayed response times to four million Londoners. - See more at: http://union-news.co.uk/2014/01/join-protests-across-london-fire-stations-close-doors-last-time/#sthash.TpAt06gw.dpuf
The commissioner of the London Fire Brigade has predicted that the cuts will result in delayed response times to four million Londoners. - See more at: http://union-news.co.uk/2014/01/join-protests-across-london-fire-stations-close-doors-last-time/#sthash.TpAt06gw.dpuf

Imagine how the framework of the austerity 'debate' would have been changed overnight, in a way which Occupy and UK Uncut failed to do over months. From 'should we cut benefits or hospitals more?', it would have become 'why are we even considering closing fire stations when state-owned banks are paying out billions in bonuses?'

That scenario did not take place. There are deep seated reasons for that. But something spectacular along those lines - organised by the rank and file - is the only thing which has the potential to stop the austerity juggernaut in its tracks.
Post a Comment

Disqus for Infantile Disorder