Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why we should all be militant pickets

The scenes of mass pickets physically removing scab crews from trucks, blocking depots and generally stopping the bosses’ scabbing operation across London last weekend is a return to more militant class tactics.

In itself, the return of militant picketing is a good sign of the times. It is an expression of the confidence that rank and file firefighters feel in relation to their dispute and the urgency they feel they need to win it.

But the tactic also has some lessons for the rest of us. The big strikes of the 1970s and 80s did not have to deal with the same sort of scabbing operations as we do now. With greater deregulation of the economy and various private companies providing key public services, there are essentially ready-made scabbing operations that bosses can call on – private fire companies, private health care, private train conductors. This wasn’t a feature of the Miners’ Strike (there weren’t thousands of miners ready to go down the pit at the behest of Jarvis – scabs were your workmates) or even of the FBU strikes at the beginning of this millennium.

So this new situation needs a new answer, and to find it the firefighters have gone back to the good old practice of scab breaking. To some, the images of pickets clambering over scab engines or physically pulling scab crews out of cabs might seem a bit over the top. But not when you consider what’s at stake: the sacking of all of London’s firefighters and extremely dangerous cuts to the fire service. In the light of that, the scabs are putting people’s lives at risk, as well as contributing to the sacking of firefighters and they should meet the sort of resistance we saw the other day. It takes only a moment for one of the scab crews to refuse to cross a picket line – the pain of the cuts will last for much longer.

Equally, the FBU has come under fire (no pun intended) for striking on Bonfire night. But why not? Surely, as workers we should strike on days when we’re most needed? Teachers wouldn’t strike during the summer holidays, I wouldn’t strike on Sunday – why shouldn’t firefighters be able to strike on Bonfire night? If there is a single accident or injury caused that day as a result, then the blood is on Coleman’s hands. He knows what he has to do to stop the cuts – stop sacking firefighters and stop making dangerous cuts.

Go round your workplace with a collection sheet for the firefighters and keep up to date via Socialist Worker.

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