Saturday, October 23, 2010

Firefighters strike

Socialists and trade unionists have been out supporting the striking firefighters today. This is what I'm hearing. The scab company Assetco was supposed to have 27 fire engines at its disposal. It actually has 14, four of which crashed, according to strikers at Woodford, because the idiot scabs don't know how to handle them. One of the vehicles reportedly crashed into a lamp post. A report on the firefighters' support group on Facebook reckons that some of the Assetco workers didn't realise they were being used as scabs and have returned one of the engines.

The fire authority isn't admitting to any of this. The Mirror's report cites fire bosses saying that they have all 27 vehicles out with 162 "contract staff" working them. And the band played, 'believe it if you like'. Reports from Woodford, Holloway, Poplar and elsewhere that I've heard about evince a huge amount of popular support, with cars and buses tooting on the way by. Socialist Worker has some picket line photos here. I hear that Police have turned up at a couple of picket lines, but they aren't intervening so far, and the scab workers aren't interested in having a confrontation with the firefighters, so a lot of the stations that were supposed to be used for scabbing have actually not been used at all. At the same time, striking workers are actually leaving their pickets to deal with one or two severe emergency situations that the scabs aren't able to deal with.

You'll remember I suggested that Brian Coleman, the Tory assembly member and head of the London Fire Authority who is provoking this dispute, didn't appear to have the ability to beat the firefighters. Of course, there's nothing to say that he and the commissioner won't improve their game, learning from experience so that they handle the next strike better. But the system is already stretched thin as it is, and even the various measure short of strike such as an overtime ban have hit hard.

It seems to be a similar situation with the tube. Anyone who has used public transport in London this week, as expensive as it increasingly is, will have heard of or experienced directly some of the chaos that is already taking place. This is in part because of a loss of good will on the part of staff, as bosses are looking to shed thousands of jobs. Even by 'working to rule' - that is by declining to do more than they are contractually obliged to do - they have demonstrated that the system works effectively because of the good will and small sacrifices made by workers on the job every day. If London's Tory administration wants to keep pushing these delinquent, ruthless cuts - and it is about cuts - then I hope there'll be coordinated action by all the workers affected.