Firefighters in Doncaster walked out on strike last week and were joined by Unison protestors. John Westmoreland reports
On Friday evening the Doncaster FBU walked out from all Doncaster stations from 6.30 until 11.00. There were pickets outside Thorne, Edlington, Adwick and the main Doncaster fire station. Pickets also went to the training depots from which scab crews were operating in Sheffield and at Scarborough barracks in Doncaster. Another strike is planned for Monday morning at 6.00.
Doncaster Peoples Assembly sent delegates to visit the striking fire fighters and offer solidarity. Neil Carbutt FBU rep at Thorne was picketing Scarborough barracks and greeted visitors warmly. Neil said, “The government proposals are absurd and place fire fighters in a great deal of danger. It is ridiculous to expect fire fighters to work beyond their physical capabilities. Not only does it put the public in danger but it means that if we can’t do the job as we should they can put us on a capability or disciplinary, sack us and then deny us a pension. For fire fighters who are forced to retire early they will not be able to draw their pension until they are at the enhanced retirement age. Many fire fighters will not live to draw the pension they are entitled to now.”
In terms of making the strike more effective pickets discussed a number of initiatives. For the next strike they will begin a campaign among the general public in the run up to the strike. This will involve calling a demonstration in the town centre and publicising their case. They have also agreed to work with the Peoples Assembly to broaden the campaign and make it an integral part of the resistance to austerity. Fire fighters at Thorne have come up with a media offensive that will hit home too. They are using four fire fighters who have all suffered the physical wear and tear that the job causes, including weakened joints, and hearing and sight impairment. These four are going to be the “poster boys” in the campaign to expose just how offensive the government proposals are.
On the Saturday morning fire fighters returned the solidarity and attended the static demonstration called by Unison outside the Doncaster Civic building, in protest at £109 million cuts to the council budget and over 2,000 job losses. Neil Carbutt spoke passionately, not about the FBU dispute itself, but at the obscenity of austerity in a place like Doncaster. As Neil said, “We need the council to make a stand and not implement these cuts.” Common cause was made with the Peoples Assembly and their speaker got a rousing round of applause when he talked of the need to build a mass movement in Doncaster that could unite service providers with service users and smash austerity, and of getting rid of Trident to begin the social investment we need. Many of those present signed up to become supporters.
Neil and many of the Unison protesters agreed to come to the next Peoples Assembly organising meeting on the 13th November which will be held in the Women’s Centre on Cleveland Street at 7.00pm. At this meeting we will flesh out a calendar of campaigning activity which will bring the burgeoning strikes and campaigns in Doncaster together. Doncaster Council has said that they want to have “a conversation about the cuts with the people of Doncaster.” There is a noticeable change of mood about the town and the ‘conversation’ could well involve some creative protesting.
John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.
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