Trade union news in brief

Submitted by Matthew on 1 August, 2012 - 2:45

Firefighters in Essex struck again on Thursday 26 July as part of their fight against cuts. Industrial action short of a strike took plae the following day, with firefighters only attending 999 calls.

The action follows a series of one-day strikes, which were supplemented by a 1,000-strong demonstration through Chelmsford on Wednesday 18 July. The firefighters are attempting to halt their bosses’ cuts to frontline services, which have seen 100 full-time and 60 part-time posts axed since 2008.

Essex Fire Brigades Union (FBU) brigade chair Alan Chinn-Shaw said: “[The authority] has got the money. The fire authority has increased its reserves from £4 million to £16 million—yet at the same time we’ve lost 160 firefighters.”

Further strikes are due in August, with action continuing into the autumn.

Home Office strikes off

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) called off a planned strike of Home Office workers on Thursday 26 July, after the government made a renewed offer which the union described as amounting to the creation of over 1,000 jobs.

The strike, which would have involved workers in the UK Border Agency, was part of a battle against massive job losses. The government plans to axe 8,500 posts from the department.

The response to the planned strike, which would have taken place the day before the Olympic opening ceremony, from the employer and the press was vitriolic. Senior Tory figures announced that they would seek injunctions or other legal means of preventing the strike from going ahead.

Train drivers in the ASLEF union, who plan to strike on 5, 6, and 7 August as part of their battle to defend their pensions, have been subjected to similar criticism, as were the Tube cleaners who struck on 27 and 28 July (see back page).

An atmosphere is developing in which almost any strike at all is accused of being fundamentally damaging to the (imagined) national interest, putting immense pressure on workers to vote against or work through strikes. The entire labour movement needs to rally behind any union taking action and assert our right to withdraw our labour in any circumstances we choose. Unions also need to urgently consider ways to defy — rather than simply “work around” — the anti-union laws, which at some point will mean taking “illegal” strike action, as electricians did in their successful dispute against pay cuts.

Questions need to be asked within the Home Office dispute itself.

Although the concession from the government is positive, many activists will question whether the offer – to create 800 jobs in the Border Agency and 300 jobs in passport offices — was sufficient to call off action when eight times that number of jobs are on the line.