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THIS year is not only the TUC’s 150th anniversary but it is also the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Fire Brigades Union.
Our centenary will be marked at our centenary annual conference in Brighton in June with a more expansive celebration in October.
There are many smaller events being organised including in Cheshire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester where we will be screening the FBU centenary film The Firefighters Story.
The FBU has come a long way in those 100 years. There have been many struggles including national strike action on pay and on pensions. There has been extensive local strike action to stave off the worst of the cuts wreaked on the fire and rescue service by aggressive fire and rescue authorities and more recently the devastating cuts heaped on us by the Tory government.
Those cuts to fire and rescue service budgets have led to the loss of 11,000 firefighter jobs — one in six of the workforce.
The last period of government saw a national 30 per cent cut to our budget, this government is pushing through a further 20 per cent cut, and in some areas, predominantly working-class areas, the cuts have been significantly worse.
This government is cutting a service that has already been cut to pieces. Safety is compromised, fire cover slashed and response times to emergency incidents increasing at an alarming rate.
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service has had to admit that the cuts it has introduced will compromise the way we respond to emergencies.
Firefighters, like other public-sector workers, have had their pay cut in real terms due to the politically motivated and ideologically driven austerity programme.
Firefighters’ pay would be £5,000 per annum more than it is today if salary increases simply matched inflation, but of course due to the 1 per cent pay cap, that hasn’t happened.
Our pensions have been attacked yet again. Detrimental changes were forced upon us in 2006 but the Tory government attacked again, forcing firefighters to pay more to work longer, fighting fires up to the age of 60.
Pre-2004, the fire and rescue service was protected by national standards of fire cover, crewing levels of fire engines were controlled by the Home Office with five firefighters on a fire appliance rather than the four firefighters which is now sadly the norm.
Many fire stations had two fire engines available but the majority now only have one fire engine available with four firefighters available.
Fire appliances previously had to be at the scene of a fire in a certain time, far better than today and there were a lot more fire appliances then than now.
But we are clear, these attacks are the challenge the FBU must focus on for the coming years, and one that we must be successful in defending against for the sake of our communities. Working with the TUC, we can ensure we have the best possible chance of not only stopping the cuts but reversing them.
We have a real opportunity in ridding ourselves of this fanatical, right-wing government with the prospect of a real socialist Labour Party who call out austerity for what it is, an unnecessary political tactic. A Labour Party that will invest in the public sector and emergency services, that will restore pride in our public services and that will repeal the awful anti-trade union legislation. A party that wants to work with the trade unions rather than against us.
The FBU will continue to fight for our industry. We are the only organisation in the fire sector who does.
Our centenary is clearly important to us but so equally is the fight to defend our service, we will do that through the solidarity and unity of our members.
Les Scarratts is an executive council member, FBU Region 5.
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