The fight to save 12 London fire stations threatened with closure stepped up a notch last week. First the Fire Authority that runs the London Fire brigade voted against the cuts proposed by fire brigade bosses.
Despite the Authority’s democratic decision, mayor Boris Johnson intends to press ahead with the closures.
This has created a political crisis in the Authority, which must now lead a public fight against the closures or confess its impotency.
Furthermore, solid Tory councils such as Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster have also come out in opposition to station closures in their areas. This shows that the rich are by no means confident about their ability to implement these cuts if they are met with determined opposition.
The FBU must aim to build local coalitions around each of the affected stations. These can draw the public, local trade unionists and sympathetic politicians into a campaign that makes closing stations too politically damaging to contemplate.
But we cannot afford to leave it at that. The union must also use its muscle by taking industrial action to heap further pressure on the politicians and fire bosses. A number of stations have already passed motions calling for action. It is important that the issues are discussed in fire stations over the coming weeks.
Throughout the consultation period the FBU will be organising local events aimed at building support for the campaign. We will hold a public meeting in Westminster on Thursday 14 March, followed by a demonstration in Clapham on Saturday 16 March.
London firefighters have taken industrial action of one sort or another every year for the past five years. This has seen off some of the worst excesses of the bosses' agenda, but they have been able to impose a number of attacks on conditions of service.
The success of the public campaign will play a big role in determining whether firefighters feel confident enough to take industrial action again. For this reason I would encourage anyone who lives near one of the effected stations to send messages of support from your work place and visit the station to find out how you can best get involved in supporting the campaign.
Almost 100 people turned up to a meeting on Monday night to Save Clapham Fire Station, including Labour councillors, firefighters, trade unionists and local residents.
Ian Lehair, FBU London region, called for a broad community campaign and also suggested the possibility of fire stations being occupied. He said that the FBU will consider taking action “when there is clear support from the community.”
Labour MP Kate Hoey backed Lehair's calls for a community campaign.
The meeting called for a march in south London on 16 March against the closure. Parallels were drawn with the Save Lewisham A&E campaign. A number of local trade union branches including Unison, NUT and PCS have already passed motions to support the campaign and any action the fire fighters take.
The FBU at Clapham fire station will hold an open action committee meeting to discuss the campaign at 7pm Monday 25 February at the Bread and Roses, in Clapham.