From The Independent newspaper:
"You may not have heard of AssetCo, a small, but growing British company that specialises in fighting fires. That may quickly change if you have the misfortune to find yourself among the thousands of Londoners who get into a spot of bother on Bonfire Night. Not only does AssetCo provide equipment to the London fire brigade, it also supplies firefighters in the event that the regular ones are unable to perform their duties, perhaps because of a major catastrophe, perhaps because of something else... such as a strike.
"Hence the Bonfire Night problem. With 5 November being the brigade's busiest night (and this year there is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, to contend with, too), most people have some sympathy with the men and women who fight fires, which is a dangerous job and a very real life-saver. But in holding a strike on Bonfire Night, their union is playing a dangerous game because that sympathy is likely to be stretched, possibly to breaking point. The Bonfire Night action is using the Bob Crow technique: that is, carefully timing your strike to cause the maximum disruption, discomfort or, in this case, fear to the public, most of whom probably haven't heard about AssetCo and, being unlikely to have experienced its services, will probably be a mite nervous about calling upon its people, however good AssetCo happens to be at the job.
"The problem with the firemen's use of the Crow tactic is that it is the sort of thing that could easily backfire, prodding the Government into picking a fight with unions generally. What better way to divert attention from the pain of the Chancellor's cuts than getting into a war with those nasty union barons. That sort of war that could lead to a company such as AssetCo filling its order book rather quickly. It won't have escaped anyone's attention that assorted Conservative ministers have been busy hobnobbing with the CBI, which has been calling loudly for a string of stringent new restrictions on unions and their ability to strike. "
October 27, 2010
From The Independent newspaper:
October 25, 2010
Striking firefighters block contract fire crew.
From Evening Standard
A family whose house was engulfed in flames during the October 2010 firefighters' strike claimed they received a “farcical” response from a stand-in crew.
Evridiki and Hippokratis Spanos made six 999 calls as smoke poured from their roof but had to wait about 20 minutes for privately-hired firefighters to arrive. A crew should normally arrive within six minutes.
Mrs Spanos said the stand-ins — hired by the London fire brigade to provide cover during an eight-hour strike — took a further 20 minutes to connect hoses to a street hydrant.
When they did begin to tackle the electrical fire at their terrace home in Enfield, she claimed, they were unable to direct the water jets on target.
“One stood at the front of the house and another at the back, but the two water arcs missed the fire completely,” said the department store worker, 49.
“They were going over the top of each other, over the roof, not hitting the spot. It was a complete farce. All we could do was stand outside, panicking because the fire was getting worse.”
Brigade sources today said the temporary crew were taunted and heckled as “scabs” throughout by people believed to be striking firefighters.
The brigade denied the response was farcical, saying water was deliberately sprayed over the flames to dampen the fire. An investigation into the blaze was under way today.
The Spanos family face a repair bill of thousands of pounds and lost many irreplaceable items. Their home is so badly damaged that the couple and their teenage son and daughter have temporarily had to move in with Mrs Spanos's sister in Leyton.
When the strike finished — 90 minutes after Mrs Spanos saw the smoke — crews from Enfield and Chingford arrived and extinguished the fire using a cherry-picker. The house's top floor and roof were virtually destroyed.
The call-out was one of 49 attended by 162 temporary crews, provided by contractor AssetCo, during the London Fire Brigades' Union action. Up to 27 fire engines were available but were not operated from fire stations — many of them barricaded — to avoid greater hostility from striking firefighters.
About 200 protesters gathered at the brigade's Southwark training centre on Saturday evening to give the temporary workers a “welcome committee” as they completed their shifts.
The FBU is protesting at plans to sack all 5,500 firefighters and re-employ them on new shift patterns.
Regional secretary Joe MacVeigh said: “Saturday was a relatively quiet day and it was by the grace of God that tragedy was avoided.”
From Socialist Worker
Striking London firefighters scored a huge victory against management's scabbing operation today (Saturday). Militant mass pickets all but destroyed bosses' operation to break the strike.
And, in a glimpse of what coordinated action could mean, many London tube workers refused to work on safety grounds during the strike, shutting down the entire Jubilee line for much of the day and causing major problems on other lines.
The strikers in the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), walked out for eight hours from 10am this morning. They had voted by 79 percent to strikes over a management order to either sign new contracts with shifts that would put fire cover at risk, or face the sack.
The bosses bought in a scab fire force from private firm AssetCo to try to break the firefighters' strike.
But the scabs were kept out of all the capital's fire stations by mass pickets, including up to 400 in Poplar, where the picket was joined by firefighters who'd come from across Kent to support them, and 200 in Dagenham, with a big delegation from Essex FBU.
Graham Beers, FBU rep for Dagenham, told Socialist Worker, "It was great to see the big groups turn up from Essex—the strikers walked out this morning to a big round of applause.
"This is the first time I've ever been on strike. Members of the public have come with boxes of chocolates and things like that. The support we've had has been incredible."
There were also reports of pickets of as many as 50 firefighters at Homerton, Woodford Green and Shoreditch in east London and Kensington in west London, boosted by large groups of off-duty firefighters, and many more stations where pickets were much bigger than expected.
Delegations of firefighters also joined today's anti-cuts protest in central London. There, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack told the crowd, "AssetCo's scabs have not got into a single fire station today.
And he added, "I have reports that two of the 27 fire engines they're using have already crashed."
Firefighters listening in on the brigade's radios told Socialist Worker that one scab fire engine drove into a wall, while another managed to crash into a lamp post. Ironically, fire bosses have previously admitted that the scabs can't cover traffic accidents.
In the morning, most scabs didn't even dare show their faces at fire stations—and the few who did were quickly driven away.
The scabs were forced to find somewhere else to lurk until they got orders over the fire engines' radios.
In Leytonstone and Dagenham, they were found hiding out in Tesco car parks.
Graham, the Dagenham rep, said, "When we found out they were in the car park, we sent a greeting party to go and see them and tell them what they're doing is wrong."
At several other stations groups of firefighters set off in their cars to track scab fire engines that drove past.
In Poplar the pickets ran down the road after the scab engine, waving a huge FBU banner.
And in Kensington they twice managed to stop fire engines and confront the scab crews inside. After the second time, the scabs said they were giving up and taking the fire engine off duty.
Union activists believe that by 3pm there were as few as 11 of the scab crews left working, trying to cover the whole of London—and failing.
London Fire Brigade Press Release
The London Fire Brigade can report that despite repeated incidents of harassment, intimidation and violence against emergency fire crews the plan to provide a contingency fire and rescue service in the capital during the eight hour FBU strike today has been successful.
All 162 ‘contracted’ firefighters were deployed by 9.00 a.m. and 27 fire engines have throughout the day responded to 49 incidents including several fires in residential buildings all of which were successfully dealt with.
During the day fire crews:
Experienced a hit and run with three motorbikes on one fire engine that has left the vehicle damaged.
Were followed and threatened on all 27 fire engines deployed across the capital.
Faced barricades across at least one station entrance preventing fire engines from getting in and out.London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said:
“I would rather the FBU had not orchestrated today’s strike, but the contract, which was of course never designed to fully replicate the service delivered to London, has delivered.
“The most disappointing aspect of the day has been that the people responding to calls, because of this strike, have had to suffer abuse, violence and harassment as they tried to access fire stations or attend incidents.
“Despite the mindless actions which posed a real danger to Londoners, the emergency fire crew delivered the plans to keep the capital safe. However, Londoners should never have been put at risk by the actions of a minority of individuals hell-bent on causing disruption.”
Several incidents were reported to the police, and the Brigade will be reviewing how further strike dates can be managed.
Fire Brigades Union Press Release
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said this evening:
“Today London’s 5,600 firefighters did the last thing they wanted to do. They went on strike for eight hours, leaving the capital without their expertise.
“It was an orderly, disciplined but solid strike. Eight out of 10 of them voted in the ballot, and of those, eight out of ten voted in favour of the strike. All of them supported it on the day.
“This wasn’t a fight we sought or wanted. London Fire Brigade wants changes in shift patterns; we are willing to negotiate changes. But we do expect to negotiate them; we won’t have them imposed on us by the threat of sacking all our members. That’s what LFB tried to do. Everything changed on August 11, when LFB sent out letters starting the process of dismissing all our members.
“One thing marred the day. London firefighters will be saddened that their chief fire officer, Ron Dobson, chose to come out with a series of unfounded accusations of violence against the men and women who work for him and for London.
“I’m going to appeal publicly to Ron Dobson at the end of this strike. You and I know that London firefighters are dedicated, brave and skilful public servants. Stop trying to tell the public a different story, and stop trying to bully them. Withdraw the sacking notices, then we’ll withdraw the second strike planned for November 1, and let’s sit down together and sort out shift patterns.”
Questions and answers from BBC
So, what's the strike about?
London Fire Brigade is proposing to change the start and finish times of duty for frontline firefighters.
What does that involve?
The brigade wants to cut the current 15 hour night shift to 12 hours and increase the current nine hour day shift to 12 hours. Firefighters would continue to work two day shifts followed by two night shifts and then have four days off. As a compromise the brigade has also suggested an 11 hour day and a 13 hour night.
What does the FBU say?
It fears that if firefighters don't accept the changes to their contracts they will be sacked and that by accepting the changes the door would be open to more "detrimental" changes to their working practices.
Why does the brigade want to change firefighters' hours?
It says current start and finish times have been the same for 31 years but the work it does now has changed dramatically - they don't just fight fires.
How long have negotiations between the brigade and the FBU been going on?
Will staff be sacked?
The brigade says that if agreement is not reached following the consultation a decision will be made on whether to give notice to staff to terminate existing contracts and off re-engagement on new start and finish times.
So, if staff don't sign the new contract they will be sacked?
Yes they will be dismissed if the brigade terminates the existing contracts of employment and staff don't sign up to the new agreement.
Would staff get redundancy?
No. The jobs would still exist.
What is the contingency plan during the strike?
London Fire Brigade has a legal duty to provide a fire and rescue service at all times. It can no longer rely on the military's 'green goddesses' so it is contracting a private company.
AssetCo web site
In July 2009, AssetCo was awarded a 7-year contract to provide the London Fire Brigade with up to 700 staff, trained to provide a support firefighting service. This is the first major contract of its nature to be outsourced by a UK Fire and Rescue Service, and was awarded to AssetCo following a competitive tendering process.
Our reserve firefighters were recruited and fully trained to provide contingency to London Fire Brigade in the event of extreme situations such as pandemic illness or flooding.
Our crews are available for immediate deployment with crew competency maintained through continuous professional development.
October 06, 2010
The newspaper said:
"A confidential memo passed to the Evening Standard claims that 91 of 169 engines were out of service on 114 occasions on Monday, some for almost 11 hours at a time, due to staff shortages or mechanical defects."
Members of the Fire Brigades Union are "working to rule" in a dispute over new shift patterns.On Oct. 1, the West End EXTRA reported: "Fire crews from Knightsbridge had to battle their way through West End traffic to fight a serious blaze in Great Portland Street" because the Euston station didn't have the required staffing.
A firefighter from the Euston station said: "Because of the dispute, we didn’t have the cover we needed at Euston to go out and tackle this blaze."
In an Oct. 6 dispatch, The Press Association reported Deputy Fire Commissioner Rita Dexter said: "The current work to rule action is causing some disruption, caused by temporary unavailability of staff and vehicles as we move them around to ensure cover."