Firefighter Mark Rowe - Speaking up for Merseysiders
Six weeks ago, Merseyside firefighters overwhelmingly voted to strike against the cuts proposed by the Fire and Rescue Authority and demanded by the government.
Today marked six days of the eight day strike. Unlike in previous disputes, there is no military cover, since the Territorial Army are involved in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kazakhstan. Last night, Merseyside FBU's latest press release announced that 'Merseyside fire crews are taking eight more days of strike action. The fire authority has been given the statutory notice of the start of strike action from 10.00 on 12 September until 10.00 on 20 September'. The press release also declared that:
'Merseyside fire crews, including those in emergency fire control, are absolutely determined to maintain momentum and keep up pressure on the fire authority. We are leaving senior managers in no doubt that we will have either thrashed out a deal by 12 September or the next set of strike action commences.'
In response, the Fire Authority seemed to further entrench their own position. A spokesman told BBC News that:
"We have said that we need to continue discussions within the perimeters that the authority needs to save £3.5 million.
"We have moved considerably on the points raised by the union, but they have made no effort to meet us on how the money can be saved."
The Daily Post then published Chief Fire Officer Tony McGuirk's comments that "it could be argued that public safety has improved" since the strike began.
Not surprisingly, Skarratts reacted angrily, calling the remarks "deeply insulting". But he added that: "It proves that they are not interested in resolving the strike. We are not getting anywhere."
Skarratts may not realise the full significance of his words. Though there was clearly some bravado and cynicism in McGuirk's statement, the Authority seems to be making do with the 170 former firefighters and "fantasy firefighters" who have crossed the picket line. If the strike was a real threat to the Authority, they would be rushing to offer concessions. Instead, they have not even been bothered to meet with Skarratts over the last couple of days. When there is a major fire, the weaknesses of the 170 and the recklessness of the cuts agenda will be shown for all to see. Right now, McGuirk believes that time is on his side.
The dispute is beginning to reflect very badly on the state of trade unionism and 'activism' on Merseyside. There have been no public expressions of solidarity, and no public meetings about a crisis which affects one million people in the Merseyside and Cheshire region. Isolated as they are, Merseyside FBU have so far been able to make any headway against the Authority, despite a water-tight common sense case and perfect solidarity amongst the strikers.
All trade unionists and anti-capitalists on Merseyside therefore have to step up to the plate and start putting all their theory into practice. We must recognise that it is the profit system that has demanded these cuts, and the profit system which has taken the Territorial Army off to the Middle East to fight for control of oil. With the big Manchester protest at the Labour Party conference coming up in seventeen days, we must use that media spotlight to highlight the link between wars abroad and cuts at home.