Prince Philip suffered an unexpected — albeit brief — delay in his journey yesterday as thousands of firefighters from all over Britain filled Parliament Square to lobby MPs against swingeing cuts to the country’s fire service. Police ushered the Royal taxi through the crowds, which parted good-naturedly to let him through - although not before slapping some ‘No cuts!’ stickers on the back of the vehicle.
According to speakers at today’s rally in Central Hall, Westminster, there are far more serious issues at stake if the 25% cuts threatened in the Comprehensive Spending Review are implemented. The FBU estimates that over 7,000 jobs will go, and lives will be put at risk. Union general secretary Matt Wrack told the packed hall that it was time for firefighters “to stand shoulder to shoulder. We don’t want industrial action, but if that is the only way they will listen to us, so be it”.
The rally also heard from Labour MPs Katie Clarke, John McDonnell and John Cryer, and other union leaders. A standing ovation was given to Sian Griffiths, one of the first women recruited to the London fire service, who was honoured with the Queen’s Fire Service Medal for "distinguished service" on Saturday, only to be suspended the next day, for allegedly ‘bullying’ employees from the private Assetco company during the recent London firefighters’ strike. The FBU see this as victimisation, and London regional organiser Ian Leahair promised that “there will be no ‘back-to’work’ agreement unless Sian is reinstated”. Female colleagues will stage a lobby of the London Fire Authority meeting tomorrow.
Meanwhile, negotiations between the London FBU and London Fire Authority over Fire Chief Brian Coleman’s threat to sack all of London 5,600 fire fighters, if they refuse to accept new shift patterns, are due to continue.
By Cat Wiener.