Last night, at a meeting packed well beyond capacity, residents of Clapham, South London pledged to fight the closure of their local Fire Station. Clapham is one of 12 Firestations that Boris Johnson has earmarked for closure, in a bid to cut costs and cash in on rising property prices. Addresssing the meeting, FBU exec member Ian Lehair strssed that his members were ready to act, but that it was also up to the community to sieze the initiative. “This is our campaign but it’s also your campaign” he said.
"If we’re gonna stand there and wait for firefighters to strike and win this battle, we aint gonna do it. If we’re gonna stand here and wait for fighters to campaign it’s not gonna happen. The only way we’re gonna win this is if the public get involved."
“If Clapham is threatened with closure and it goes through with closure we will want to occupy this fire station” he added. But, he stressed, there would be a big difference between an occupation by firefighters alone – who would inevitably be intimidated by threats to their livelihood – and an occupation by members of the public. Speaking alongside him was Val Shawcross, former chair of the London Fire Authority, who told us that, contrary to the rhetoric eminating from city, London was not over-supplied with firestations. In fact there is just one firestation for every 80,000 people.
The decision to close Clapham firestation and others would undoubtedly drive up response times, and cost lives. The meeting was also addressed by local MP Kate Hoey, and by labour councillor Jack Collins. On the floor of the meeting, there were pledges of support from both residents by a wide variety of local trade unionists – along with calls for strike action.
The response from the the FBU was interesting and important. Ian Lehair said that if a big popular campaign got going to save the fire station then he would have “no hesitation” in recommending a ballot for industrial action. In other words, the union needs more than cheerleading. It is up to the community and to local activists to get a big campaign off the ground, and in doing so to create the political space within which strikes can be deployed most effectively.
To this end, a march has been called for March 16th. For all of us who care about defending London public services, and, yes, people’s lives, it is crucial that we make it a big one.
More info and downloadable petition form from Save Clapham Firestation
In the parks, halls and public spaces around Kings Cross
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