Public sector unions warn of co-ordinated strikes

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The Independent Online

Public sector union leaders today warned of co-ordinated strikes to protect jobs and services amid warnings that 10,000 firefighters posts were at risk because of "savage" public spending cuts.

More than 2,000 members of the Fire Brigades Union from across the country joined a rally in Westminster and a lobby of MPs as part of a campaign to protect pay, pensions and conditions, pledging the "fight of our lives".

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said frontline jobs had been cut under the Labour Government while back-office positions and chief officer teams had increased.

He angrily attacked politicians and chief fire officers for "sitting back" and allowing the service to be "dismantled", adding: "We face a pay freeze and huge attacks on jobs and conditions as part of an ideological, political assault against public services.

"We are now seeing daft ideas such as increasing the role of the voluntary sector and individual stations being allowed to opt out of fire service control.

"They have already privatised fire engines, now there are private contractor strike-breakers.

"How sickening, when people are hit by a fire, facing injury or even death, to hear people talk about it as if it was a market."

Mr Wrack said unions should fight disputes together, warning: "If it means striking together, then so be it. We are entering the fight of our lives, the like of which we have never seen before."

Mark Serwotka, leader of the Public and Commercial Services union, said there would be 100,000 civil service jobs lost in the next four years as well as a pay freeze over the next two years.

He told the rally that 15 councils had issued compulsory redundancy notices to their entire workforce and told them they would only be re-employed on worse pay and conditions.

"Firefighters, teachers and civil servants are all facing cuts in jobs, pay, pensions and conditions. It makes no sense to fight individual battles - we should all go on strike together," he said.

A number of Labour MPs spoke in support of the firefighters, including John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) who attacked "hypocritical" politicians who praised firefighters for work such as tackling today's floods in Cornwall, but then did nothing to stop jobs being axed.

The union will lobby a meeting of the London Fire Authority tomorrow to demand the reinstatement of Sian Griffiths, an FBU member who was suspended last week over allegations of harassment during a recent strike in the capital over new shifts, just two days after receiving a medal at Buckingham Palace in recognition of her work.

Ms Griffiths was given a standing ovation at today's rally.

Fire Minister Bob Neill said: "Firefighters fulfil a vital role to protect our communities. We are committed to an open and ongoing dialogue with the Fire and Rescue Service and their representative bodies and therefore welcome the opportunity that this lobby presents for a constructive discussion.

"The reduction in funding to Fire and Rescue Services following the spending review is significantly smaller than other areas and we believe that savings are achievable through increased efficiencies.

"It will be up to local Fire and Rescue Authorities to determine how best to maximise savings in consultation with local communities."