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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

A new winter of discontent

by New Worker correspondent

WIDESPREAD industrial action at present seems to involve almost every section of the workforce apart from Santa Claus and his elves. Railway workers, nurses, ambulance workers, civil servants and postal staff are fighting for higher pay and better terms and conditions. Firefighters may soon be joining them.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has rejected as inadequate a below-inflation five per cent pay offer and started balloting its members on strike action.

The union’s General Secretary, Mark Wrack, said: “Strike action will always be a last resort. Many firefighters and control staff are desperate. Some are struggling to afford for they and their families to live. It is a dreadful and very serious state of affairs. We have held talks with and written letters to many different parties. But no such pay offer has been forthcoming.”


He also made the simple point that: “It is the responsibility of fire service employers and governments to pay their staff properly. That is part of their responsibility of running the fire and rescue service. We have been mandated by our members to fight for pay that they can live on and will do that.”

Balloting continues until 30th January so there’s still time for Management to come up with an improved offer. If not, a strike is inevitable. It will be the first national fire strike since action on pensions from 2013 and 2015, and the first on pay for 20 years.

Cost-of-living raises are urgently needed. FBU officials have had to sign off on members for them to use foodbanks. This is poor reward for not only working throughout the pandemic but also taking on extra duties including moving the deceased.

Meantime, in Merseyside the FBU is already involved in a local dispute where control members and other staff have already started industrial action in the form of refusing to do any pre-arranged overtime for the next six months.

The main concerns are an imposed reduction in night-time staffing numbers at the Merseyside Fire Control Room from of six to five, and a new duty shift system that means new firefighters have to work under terms which breach national terms and conditions as regards overtime pay. New firefighters also have to take on new roles that have not been agreed. Apprentices have to attend the workplace outside of core hours to undertake training sessions, assessments, charity days and exams.

Ian Hibbert, the local FBU Secretary, warned that: “Merseyside’s continued refusal to abide by locally and nationally agreed negotiation procedures has left Merseyside FBU members with little choice but to take industrial action. Like many workers, our members are suffering through the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades, whilst simultaneously having to fend off attacks on our terms and conditions of service, perpetrated by our local fire authority.”

He complained that the authority was seeking unilaterally to impose worse conditions on new entrants and “cut the FBU out of discussions entirely”.

He concluded by saying: “FBU members are not asking for a lot, in fact the vast majority of the issues which have led us to this point could be resolved at no cost to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority or the public whom we serve. All we are seeking is that Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service honour our nationally agreed terms and conditions and enter into negotiation and reach agreement with the Fire Brigades Union on all issues.”

Another group of workers at the end of the 999 telephone who are taking industrial action are ambulance workers.

On Tuesday it was announced by Unite that over 1,600 workers at the West Midlands, North West and North East ambulance trusts will strike on the Wednesday before Christmas.

fight of our lives

General Secretary Sharon Graham warned: “Make no mistake, we are now in the fight of our lives for the very NHS itself. These strikes are a stark warning – our members are taking a stand to save our NHS from this government.

“Patients’ lives are already at risk but this government is sitting on the side-lines, dodging its responsibility to sort out the crisis that it has created.

“Ministers can’t keep hiding behind the pay review body. They know full well it does not address the desperate need to get huge numbers of NHS workers off the breadline.

“Failure to act now to avert these strikes and the blame will rest firmly at the government’s door.”


Jason Kirkham, a West Midlands paramedic, was quoted as saying: “This strike isn’t just about pay – it is to save the NHS. The NHS is crumbling, we can’t recruit and retain staff as pay is so low. It has got so bad that we have had to open a foodbank in my ambulance station.” The union added it would maintain essential emergency cover for patients.

The previous Wednesday, the other union for ambulance workers, GMB, announced that its members are also prepared to walk out at eight trusts in England and across Wales, with workers in the service at 38 other trusts being balloted. This is in protest at the Government’s imposed four per cent pay award. After some confusion they also agreed to strike on the 21st.

Rachel Harrison, the GMB’s National Secretary for the service, said: “Ambulance workers – like other NHS workers – are on their knees. Demoralised and downtrodden, they’ve faced 12 years of Conservative cuts to the service and their pay packets, fought on the frontline of a global pandemic and now face the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.”

She added that: “This is as much about unsafe staffing levels and patient safety as it is about pay. A third of GMB ambulance workers think delays they’ve been involved with have led to the death of a patient.”

Unison also agreed to strike action on the same day, meaning that only the East of England is unaffected. Nurses, porters, healthcare assistants, cleaners and other NHS workers at the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital and Liverpool University Hospital will also be on strike on the same day.

Due to the Tory anti-union laws Unison is having to re-ballot 13,000 staff working in 10 trusts and ambulance services where turnout in the recent strike vote fell short of the threshold required by law.

to blame

Unison head of health Sara Gorton declared: “The government will only have itself to blame if there are strikes in the NHS before Christmas. Ambulance staff and their health colleagues don’t want to inconvenience anyone. But ministers are refusing to do the one thing that could prevent disruption – that’s start genuine talks about pay.”

In Scotland, Unison is supporting an improved offer for NHS staff whom it claims will see a £2,205 increase for the lowest paid staff and more for those on higher bands. The rejected offers for England and Wales give NHS staff an average rise of 4.75%, with staff guaranteed a minimum of £1,400.