At Broughton Community Fire Station this afternoon, as picket lines were being manned, virtually every car going past had a waving, tooting driver in support of a four hour strike against Government proposals to make firefighters work longer and pay more for their pensions.
"We've had a great response from Greater Manchester Police cars, Salford City Council bins wagons, bus drivers…you name it every vehicle going past is hooting support in a difficult time for everybody" said Dave Campbell, Fire Brigade Union (FBU) branch chair at Broughton "I think people believe that this is a just cause and a just fight.
"It's not just about pensions for us it's a public safety issue as well" he explained "People expect, when they dial 999, for a crew of fit and competent people to turn up, and we believe - and we have evidence we've provided to the Government - that beyond 55 not everyone is going to able to be fit and able to respond to an emergency call. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work that out. You don't want fire crews turning up at that age.
"This is a complex profession now, responding to fires, road traffic collisions, all kinds of incidents" he added "We've got a lot of kit on that fire engine and it takes a lot of training and time and commitment - and physical fitness is one of the key elements to deliver that. We believe that this will affect public safety ultimately."
At Agecroft Community Fire Station, amid a cacophony of beeping support, Simon Hickman, FBU rep at Agecroft and for A Division Salford and Trafford, explained that the Government's case is based on one sentence of a 176 page report by Dr Williams…
"Dr Williams report says that you're looking at 85% of people who won't be able to complete to pensionable age" he said "The Williams report is 176 pages and they've pulled out one sentence which states that if a firefighter leads a healthy lifestyle he may – may – be able to work until he's sixty. And that's the whole basis of their argument. But there's no way a fire fighter can do this operational job at sixty. In effect this means no job and no pension; it's not a viable option for firefighters.
"We are fighting on two fronts" he adds "We're fighting for our pensions and against massive cuts. Merseyside lost a third of its engines overnight, London is closing ten fire stations - it's an aggressive ideological attack on the fire service, and I think they just want privatisation."
This puts the firefighters in the same boat as many other public sector workers fighting to hold on to pensions and conditions, and even private sector workers fighting against zero hours contracts. Which is why both Salford City UNISON and Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union members joined the FBU at the Agecroft picket line.
The FBU has been negotiating with the Government for two years over the firefighters future conditions which, FBU reps told the Salford Star, will see some of their members working ten years longer than they do at present, while others are having to pay around an extra £150 a month towards their pensions.
Even after the positive vote by firefighters in favour of today's strike, the Government was given another 28 days to re-negotiate with the union but declined to take part.
"Our message today to the public is speak to your MP, speak to your councillor, put pressure on the Government to re-think what they are doing" said Broughton rep Dave Campbell "Hopefully we won't be going through the door again. We want to get back to the negotiating table tomorrow but this is a serious issue. It's not just affecting our pensions but affecting public safety as well."
Judging by the beeping cars and lorries on both Bury New Road in Broughton and Bolton Road at Agecroft, the public know that. And is well in support…
See also previous Salford Star article for more background details – click here