The London firefighters strike: a look at what the Tory press is saying

I am 100% behind the Fire Brigades Union in their strike action. The change in working patterns will have a devastating effect on their lives and those of their families. This week we have been treated to story after story about how this strike is “unnecessary” and that calling a strike for November 5 is “irresponsible” even “dangerous”. But it is only the Tory press, the BBC and Sky which are reporting the strike in this way.

Today, the Sunday Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday claim that firefighters are commuting from places as far afield as Spain to do their shifts in London. The Telegraph story is threadbare. There is no explanation as to why some firefighters live outside of London; the suggestion here is that it is bad.

Thousands more live outside the capital because of their “archaic” working patterns.

The firemen can live hundreds of miles from London because they work three shifts, followed by four days off.

The Mail on the other hand has provided a handy table.

In both cases, there is no mention of their alleged source for this information. This is a typical hatchet job on striking workers. This is Derbyshire explains why some firefighters have to commute into London,

Fire Brigades Union regional secretary, Joe MacVeigh, said: “We have thousands of firefighters who live outside of London. The vast majority of them cannot afford to live there.

“The extra money is for working in London, not for working and living in London. It’s cheaper to live in Derby and commute than to live in London.”

While most papers have printed stories about the proposed changes, the right wing press led by the Torygraph and the Mail have pursued a smear campaign in the hope that they can tap into memories of the so-called Winter of Discontent (which is often used as a club to beat the unions with). I found this on Bezinga which notes that the London Fire Brigade press office has produced at least one smear story per day.  The Sun produced this piece of scandal on Friday,

Nigel Creary spends his shifts at his Knightsbridge base and takes to the road in his taxi later.

He said: “I’ll be working over Halloween and bonfire night and I should make quite a bit of money.

The article finishes by telling us,

This year, around 170 private contractors will man 27 fire engines.

Where, I wonder, do these “private contractors” come from and how well trained are these scabs?

As I reported weeks ago, this strike is also about the fact that the firefighters face the sack if they refuse to sign the new contracts. It is odd how the Tory press has ignored this rather important fact in its desire to paint all striking workers as “irresponsible” and “greedy”.

This is from the World Socialist Website,

Long before the first strike, the head of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Brian Coleman, a Conservative member of the London Assembly, invoked section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act. According to the FBU, on August 11 London Fire Brigade “formally began the legal process of terminating the employment contracts of 5,600 London fire fighters.”

The termination date is set for November 26.

Coleman stated that “firefighters who don’t sign the new contract won’t be re-employed.” He added later, “I could put an advert in the Evening Standard and get 20,000 people applying. London will be totally safe.”

The right to join a trade union and to withdraw one’s labour is a human right. Britain currently has  some of the most draconian labour laws in Europe. The neoliberal argument put forward by the likes of Hayek is that unions merely get in the way of profits and have to be smashed. Hayek was also an admirer of Pinochet’s Chile.


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