Monday, November 01, 2010

On the Picket Line

Earlier today I went to visit IPSA and was shown round the operation. I then spent an hour grilling board member Ken Olisa. More of that anon.

I got a cab back to TP towers by Lambeth Bridge and as I was getting out of the taxi I spotted some firefighters outside the fire station on Albert Embankment. So I went to have a brief chat with them. Actually, it turned into a half hour chat. All very amicable, and all designed to make my LBC programme tonight more informed. Interestingly, all of them (and there were 15-20 there) made clear they were all on strike because of the Section 188 notice letters rather than the proposed change in shift patterns. Quite a few of them said they would not have voted for a strike just over a change in shift patterns. And they all seemed very uncomfortable about going on strike on bonfire night. Their union rep told me they felt it was the only thing they felt they could do because apart from LBC and the Evening Standard, the media hadn't reported the reasons for the strike.

There was a lot of ill feeling directed towards Brian Coleman and his London Fire Authority colleagues. "What do they know about the Fire Service - they're only politicians", was the general view. And they all believe that if they give in on this there will be cuts to night cover and the number of available appliances in the future, even though Brian Coleman has categorically guaranteed that is not the case. They reckon that the real plan is to privatise the London Fire Service and hand it all over to AssetCo, who are handling the emergency cover.

Anyway, they were a terrific bunch and we had a really good discussion. I hope I will be able to accurately report their views tonight on the programme. Assuming we cover the strike!


Simon Lewis said...

Once you engage these people you do find they are quite normal and approachable. It's the media we have that label them lunatics.
It's more likely the management that are.

James Bloodworth said...

Agreed. Good post.


A reasonable but angry man said...

No, I'm afraid it's not a good post. Trading on understandable public support, those 'normal and approachable' chaps have become a pampered, scheming nomenklatura, who take an unfair share of the national cake. And that would be bad enough. But they watch people die. And prevent others from helping. Just read the comments from earlier today and look forward to Friday.

Sres said...

I'm not surprised, the last strike the FB was misreported as well.

trevorsden said...

What a load of bollocks. Yet again, YET AGAIN you are far too nice and understanding about a group of people who want to ruck us senseless.

There have been 5 years worth of negotiations over changing shift patterns - so why if they are not bothered about changing shift patterns if they are happy to change shift patterns have they not reached agreement.

They are warned (clause 188 letter) about consequences of not reaching agreement after 5 tortuous years and they go on strike over being told the risks of not reaching agreement.

Its the same thing Mr Dale. They do not want to reach agreement. Did you ask about the second jobs?

Phil Taylor said...


There is a lot of history here and I don't think that the firemen are telling you it straight.

For a long time (a decade) the management have been trying to re-engineer the service so that it is more effective. Too many fireman think they should be paid for 15 hour night shifts sleeping in bed in the city centre uninterrupted by suburban fires. In addition they do not relish the fire prevention work that is undoubtedly the most important part of their role.

The management want more day time hours for fire prevention. The management want to deploy more night time hours at night in the burbs and hollow out city centre fire stations at night when they are largely a waste of resources.

The firemen aren't kicking against politicians they are kicking against their own mananegement, career firemen, who want to provide a better service. In the current climate they know they need to provide a better service for less cash.

The firemen brand themselves as firefighters. They need to do more fire prevention and less sleeping. That is the root of this dispute. They may be angry about the management tactics but the management have spent five years trying to get this change through. If anything the management has been too slow to escalate.

Brian Coleman needs to keep out of this and the fire service management need to come out and start communicating the benefits of the changes they propose for Londoners.

John said...

That R5 debate last night was a shocking mess really. I think Iain was almost the voice of reason.

But it's clear to me why John Gaunt was sacked from radio. The man was a complete moron last night, rude, interruptive, and continually introducing irrelevant points into what at times was in danger of becoming a sensible discussion.

But best credit goes the Fire Service guy Coleman, when he basically told the FBU rep to get stuffed.

If the Firemen continue to listen to a pillock like him, the lot of them will lose thier jobs, and they'll deserve nothing less.

Does anyone know why the FBU, which has negotitated the 12/12 shift changes everywhere else in the country, seems so reticent to do the same in London?

Daedalus said...

I have had the sometimes dubious pleasure of having to do week long training courses with fire-fighters for my old job in the Merchant Navy. I redid the course again last year when I thought that I maybe going back to sea again; after 23 years. (Didn't happen).
The one thing that came out of the courses from the 1st in 1976 again in 1980 and in 1985 then in 2009, is the camaraderie that the fire-fighters enjoy. They do what can be a tough job, hopefully occasionally, and they all, from what I have seen have a certain gallows humour.
The 2nd thing they all have in common is a certain dislike for political authority, particularly anything of a conservative bent. All of those men I did my training with (and they were all men) were without doubt courageous men, who would put their lives on the line for their colleagues and the public if necessary. But they all to a man had very socialist tendencies and all (in the last course) hated Maggie, she was the spawn of the devil. I couldn't understand this, as Maggie was responsible as I recall for some substantial wage increases and better conditions for firemen. They seem to be stuck in some 80's netherworld along with many ex miners I have worked with over the last 15 years.
But having spent some time training in temperatures in steel rooms that simulate ships engine rooms and accommodation at temperature of over 200C YES that is OVER 200C (God but the clothing is better these days), I would have no problem with any of them covering my back in a real emergency.
The stubbornness is part of the makeup of a fireman and the move to 12 hour 4 on 4 off shifts will hit many of them in the pocket. That’s why they don’t want to move. The 188 is a red herring.


torieboy said...

its hard to dislike the firemen there
not known for being militant,
hope they dont spoil there reputation
by striking.

Doubting Richard said...

What, of any of that, gives them a reason to strike?

They do not run the Fire Service. How it is run is up to the senior management. These people are there to perform their jobs the best they can. When I am at work I sometimes disagree with my senior management. I have been know to pass on suggestions. If those suggestions are not taken up then I do the job I am asked to do, I don't go on strike.

In the private sector if the company does not need so many crews then some are going to be made redundant.

Finally why should the Fire Service not be privatised? Why is that up to the front-line?

As an employee, demanding the final say in how your organisation is run is far from "normal". It is very self-righteous and arrogant.

pete-s said...

It's a clear case of them protecting their 'Spanish Practises'. Their work is in desperate need of reform, but they want a big payout and do not want it perceived that they rolled over.

Stuart Winton said...

"I got a cab back to TP towers by Lambeth Bridge and as I was getting out of the taxi I spotted some firefighters outside the fire station on Albert Embankment."

Presumably your cabbie wasn't the fireman cum taxi driver featured in a recent Sun article?

John Galt said...

Don't forget to vote on the strike this week at

Keep the conversation going, Iain.

Lady Finchley said...

9/11 imparted a certain 'glamour' to firefighters in New York City and that rubbed off here in the UK. But Daedalus is right - firemen are what we call in the States 'blue collar' guys - traditionally union, anti-management who don't want to change with the times. Watch the brilliant American show about New York's Bravest, 'Rescue Me' if you don't believe me.

Five years is a long time to be negotiating and you can understand why management is fed up. Striking is indefensible and I don't care how brave, handsome or engaging they are. I might still have a smidgen of sympathy for the NYC firefighters who so bravely carried out their duties and lost so many men in 9/11 but here it just don't wash.

privatefrazer said...

Most of the time you can be relied upon for a good common sense view in a plethora misrepresentation. On this occasion you are far too soft and I respectfully disagree with you.

After working for fifty years bringing up a family on one income, paying ALL my taxes and earning not quite the national average at the time of my retirement, I have probably seen enough to know when I am being taken for a ride, usually by the politicians.

These people are holding us to ransom, just because they can. They have done so before and once the public have forgotten this episode they will certainly do so again. Striking on November 5th is worse than BASSA proposing industrial action over Christmas, at least they gauged public opinion and changed their plans.

I feel sure that individually the firemen and women are good people and we do not need reminding of their incredible bravery. Collectively, they are just another bunch of out of touch very selfish socialists, each with a chip on their shoulder, not living in the real world. It is so sad.

Unsworth said...

I drove past the HQ at just about the same time as you must have been chatting to these guys. What I noticed was the lack of obvious support from the public. Last time they were on strike motorists would hoot and wave, pedestrians would smile and sometimes make comment. Now, nothing.

That's a measure of people's views of the current dispute.

clemthegem said...

I sincerely hope that none of the above posters who are denigrating the Firefighters, who are facing the draconian use of section 188, have any need to call upon their services ever.
At the very least, this may cause some embarrassment.

Unsworth said...

@ clemthegem

Crass remark. Do you call upon the services of the Navy, Army, Air Force, Ambulances, Police etc etc? We all pay for these services, and we are all therefore perfectly entitled to comment and/or criticise. Firefighters have chosen their jobs in the same way as these others have. The difference is that the Armed Forces (in particular) do not have the luxury of being able to strike over their appalling conditions - nor are they paid as well, nor do they have the same 'advantageous' shift patterns.

You may not like what is said - but ain't that just too bad? Presumably you'd never ever criticise the actions of any of these other bodies - because you might have to call on their services.

These guys have been 'negotiating' for five years and more. Just how competent are their representatives? The Union has settled in many other parts of the country. What is so different about London? And why do these London firefighters have a right to put others' lives in danger over a matter of shift patterns? Is there any morality or justification in that? True, the managers may have handled this remarkably poorly, but two wrongs do not make a right. What efforts have the Union made to resolve this local dispute amicably?

I'm not impressed by the cynical choices the Union have made - and I guess many others who are paying for these people resent their attitudes and actions, too.

A reasonable but angry man said...

And 'clemthegem's comment - with its brooding implication of deadly revenge visited on those who dare criticise the precious - tells you all you need to know about the sense of entitlement that infects our fat, self-satisfied firemen. A conspiracy of self-rewarding, self-applauding mediocrity.