Create ripples, one day they’ll become tidal waves.

The biggest threat to our way of life is not the government or the terrorists they claim to be chasing across the globe. Its is our apathy.

The Royal Mail, educational system, NHS and emergency services have been built by the blood, sweat and tears of you and you grandparents going back 100 years. Today they are seen as cash cows for corrupt politicians and their privateer friends to siphon off billions in public money to line their private pockets and they are using the veil of austerity to do so. They have managed, somewhat convincingly, to persuade a large section of society that austerity is both real and necessary.

Alessio Rastani told us that a recession is not bad for everyone, it is an opportunity to make money; This is not a recession, it is a robbery.

Worryingly this agenda is something that is pursued by both Labour and Conservatives, one hard and fast and the other a kind of “I can’t believe it’s not austerity”, or “austerity-lite” approach. Either way the end result is the same. Working people are forced to bear the brunt of paying for a crisis created by corrupt politicians, rogue bankers and immoral (if not illegal) banking practices with their banking and economic terrorism.

The leaders of both these parties are no longer interested in popularity contests at election time because there are common themes, goals and aims amongst them. They are ultimately all gorging themselves at the same trough of public money and broadly speaking, their sole interest is themselves.

The NHS as I mentioned is already paid for by our parents and grandparents, the problem we have is that far too few of us dare old enough to remember a time when you would have to pay for a doctor call out and all the associated care that goes with it and even less have stopped to think about the danger we face because of privatisation. Some may think that they will see no real problem because they already have some form of private medical care, paid for either by their employer or privately but the key point here is that these private firms are backed up by the publicly funded NHS. Even the Royal spawn, despite all its top private care, was delivered in a private hospital, ably supported by the resources of the NHS should anything have gone wrong.

Where will the support network be once the entire lot has been sold of to the great bearded one, Richard Branson?

In the case of the NHS the politicians have gone to great lengths to show us how badly the NHS is failing and have been duly assisted by a complicit media, none more so than our publicly funded BBC who reel off story after story about “nurses on safari” looking for patients or failing trusts. As bad as some of these stories may be on the face of it, these are an infinitesimally small percentage of the millions of people treated by wonderful doctors and nurses every day of the year, any time we call on them.

Where are our survivor stories?

Along with the horrors show run by the mainstream media, the government also repeatedly tell us that the immigrants (who are not even here yet) are to blame for the failure and over capacity of our A&E departments etc. These are blatant lies, used to prey on people’s fears and prejudice that is manufactured by a corrupt elite intent on walking away with billions in profit at the cost of our health. The process to privatisation is a simple but effective one; first the government go through a period of defunding which creates an environment for failure, the failures are reported and the cost to make improvements is amplified and then the privateers swoop in with the answer to take an ever-increasing cost off of the tax payers hands. All the while feeding you distraction stories of immigrants, bad nurses and creating apathy to convince you that a nice guy like Branson will make a good job of it.

Really? He is a businessman about making money. Would you really want someone in charge of something that makes money solely off of the death and illness of people? The only way they will make profit is by charging us for treatments, reducing wages of the nurses providing the majority of the care (not the execs, they get paid off to push through change) and generally hanging us out to dry. See how cheap health insurance will be then when they know you cannot rely on the NHS. These firms will have cornered the market and will drive up prices. Just look at what the energy firms are preparing to do this winter, nearly 10% increase in price’s!

The apathy they are trying to foster enables them to impose these changes because we feel we cannot make a difference and that we cannot make a change. We have given up our power and we have to take it back. One person can make a difference and everyone should do so, if we do not start offering a resistance to these attacks now and come to realise we have more in common with each other than with these merciless privateers and criminals running the country, then we will quite literally be cut adrift and priced out of even a base level of living.

We can do this by winning the hearts and minds of the people around us, taking interest in each other’s causes and not waiting for people to come to us and ours, we can withdraw economically from certain corporations to redistribute the pain, we can write music, draw, sing and create art – the true way of protesting and engaging the hearts and minds of others. If we create ripples they can one day become tidal waves.

We inherited a world of opportunity from our parents, we have a duty to hand it on to the next generation in a better state and not sell it from under them for a dollar.

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Strike action, the last throw of the dice against an oppressive regime.

If you are a writer and you go more than a day without putting pen to paper, or typing some words into a word processor, then it starts to get to you.

People who have been following this blog will know that the media swipes and blogs have dried up in the last couple of weeks but when you are helping to run a dispute and campaign on pension attacks, as well as everything else that is going on locally and nationally, such as library closures and NHS attacks, something has got to give.

Here is an explanation and clarification on why firefighters felt the need to strike on September 25th, following over two years of negotiations between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), Government and the Fire Minister Brandon Lewis, but first a comparison and question for everyone;

If you had a mortgage and your provider called you in one day to tell you they are extending it by 10 years and on top of that, they are increasing your payments by 3-5% depending on when you joined it AND they told you that in your final 5 years of payments there is a 66-90% chance that they will take the house back anyway just because of your age, what would you do?

pension theft humberside

Background

Earlier this year Government set the Public Sector Pension bill with a Normal Pension Age (NPA) of 60. This will now apply for all public sector workers and is a one size fits all approach by Government. The FBU nationally and local members tried hard to lobby MPs and Lords to consider an amendment to this bill to allow for a concession on the firefighters. This was rejected and so now the NPA is set at 60.

This move now brings the two concurrent fire service pension schemes into line as is frequently quoted by Brandon Lewis.

To clarify this, the New Firefighter Pension Scheme (NFPS) was brought in by the Labour government in 2006 and had an NPA of 60. This closed the Fire Pension Scheme 1992 (FPS) to new members and replaced the previous NPA of 55. This was opposed by the FBU at the time but due to the laws in this country they were not able to challenge it as you are only able to take action against something that directly affects your members and as it was a new scheme with no one in it their members were not affected.

Leading up to the new NPA for the 2006 scheme the employers were telling the Labour government that the fire service was moving into a brave new world of modernisation, community safety and prevention work. If a firefighter started struggling to cope with the physical demands of the job moving in to their late fifties, they could be redeployed into a back room job.

This has not been the case.

The fire service just does not have the scope for redeployment and when coupled with the privatisation of back room departments such as training, workshops, and community safety and fire safety, these posts just do not exist. To put this into context, less than 20 people have been redeployed since 2006 and once filled, they are gone. There are approximately 40,000 operational firefighters in the UK at present.

This change in the Public Sector Pension Act lead to a change in the trade dispute as due to the law in this country you cannot take any action against legislation, leaving the FBU membership to fight for mitigation of the consequences of this legislation and trying to lobby politically to get the act reviewed and or repealed.

Brandon Lewis knows this but continually states this issue of 60 does not form part of the current trade dispute… That’s because it can’t Brandon!

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Fitness – the complicated part!

There is no national standard for fitness in the UKFRS with each brigade varying in their application of being ‘fit for duty’ from standard medial health screening, to actual physical fitness assessments, based on a dated cardiovascular test which said you need a VO2 of 35, plus a 20% safety margin (equating to 42) to fight compartment fires. In old money this is similar to being able to achieve 9.6 on the multi stage shuttle run (bleep test).

VO2 testing measures the rate at which our body can transfer oxygen to your muscles, but is a very specific element of fitness focusing on cardiovascular aerobic capacity, taking no account of strength, flexibility and a key element in terms of the fire service, endurance.

A firefighter is not necessarily tested physically just the once during their shift, but may have to repeat multiple feats of extreme physical exertion throughout the course of their shift. The modernisation approach to the fire service in recent years has seen a shift pattern change from a 9hr day and 15hr night, to a mix and match of traditional systems, 24hr shifts and ‘super day-crewing’ systems, where crews stay on station for 4 consecutive days.

A firefighters ability to repeatedly turn out to incidents is not factored into these current tests.

Brandon Lewis states that firefighters, with 2hrs a week fitness activity will be able to maintain their operational fitness until they are 60.

The fire minster speaks in mixed truths and is at best misleading.

In January a report commissioned by the fire minister, paid for by Government, by Dr Tony Williams to assess whether the NPA of 60 was appropriate. It highlighted a number of concerns and flaws in the government insistence of an NPA of 60 and expressed concerns on firefighters maintaining their fitness at the current standard of 42 VO2 up until the age of 60.

On page 138, para: 11.5.4 Dr Williams stated: “Even though the Government has decided that an increase in pension age across the public sector is reasonable and fair, not all firefighters will be able to maintain their fitness. People do not age at a standard rate, some will find it harder than others to keep physically fit.”

On page 143 Dr Williams states the worst case scenario is firefighters who follow the national average for fitness and body mass index, 85% of firefighters at age 55 would be unfit for duty, rising to 91% by the age of 60. Recent data collected by the government showed that currently 66% of firefighters between 55 and 60 years old are below the minimum standard of 42 VO2.

This story is worse for women in the job who will have to be in the top 2% of athletes to achieve the fitness standard after the age of 55. The report highlights that aging is not standard across the population and recent studies have highlighted the fact that 20% of the population are non responders to fitness training, they can be healthier, but will have no significant improvement on their VO2 level no matter how hard they train.

Interestingly the Government review to this cited that they looked at 20 fire and rescue services fitness policies and stated they were happy that a firefighter would not be dismissed on grounds of capability and fitness as a result. There are 46 FRS in England and Brandon Lewis and his advisors looked at less than half of them. He will find that some services do not have a fitness policy at all.

Those that do have a fitness policy may be working to the 42 VO2 standard with the “at risk” standard of 35 VO2, enabling firefighters to stay operational. Brandon Lewis has reiterated this point many times but fails to mention (or maybe it’s because he did not read that far through the different policies) that if a firefighter can only achieve a 35 VO2, they are put on remedial fitness training, whereby they must show significant improvement towards achieving and attaining the 42 VO2 standard. This timeline is usually set within a few weeks of the initial test. If a firefighter does not achieve the required standard then they risk dismissal on grounds of capability. No job and no pension.

Once again this is exacerbated by Government’s insistence of an NPA of 60 where this will potentially be the rule, rather than the exception.

Brandon Lewis and the government refuse to take ownership of fitness as a national issue and are instead washing their hands of it and deferring to local authorities and firefighters to sort out. A disgraceful and cowardly act.

Norfolk Gorleston 4

The truth – the simple bit

Brandon Lewis and his advisors refused to heed the warnings within their own commissioned study and worse they did not even do the full and thorough work required to get the context on which their statements since on VO2 have hinged on. Lewis and his advisors decided to offer a retirement penalty reduction of initially 51%, eventually reducing this to 21.9% in his final offer, if a firefighter tried to access their pension at age 55 if they started to struggle physically.

Firefighters are not trying to stop people who want to and can work until 60, all they are asking is to not be financially penalised for retiring at 55 on fitness grounds and not to have the very real threat of capability dismissal or no job, no pension hanging over them and their families future. On top of this the Government continue to increase the contribution rates firefighters pay, the highest of anyone in the public or private sector, now set at 13.2%. This is up 5% for those firefighters that joined the NFPS, whose original contribution rate was 8%. These firefighters now pay over £300 a month. I would challenge anyone to run a family with the increase in living costs and pension price hikes like that. Firefighters do not mind paying a little bit more but some are being asked to pay considerably more and face the very real prospect of not even being able to access their pension as a result of their fitness declining naturally with age.

The truth is that firefighters expected the government to come up with an occupational pension scheme, not for them to try to shape the job of firefighting around the pension. It is what it is, dangerous and dirty.

The truth is that everyone in the fire service knows that men and women working into their late 50’s up to 60 is a nonsense, that it is dangerous not only for themselves but for the public. Behind closed doors, politicians know this too, but refuse to admit it in public. Firefighters cannot engage in that lie and this is why they have had to take a stand. They have tried for over 2 years to discuss and negotiate this but the government have shut the door. Firefighters want their government to re-engage with their FBU negotiators to settle this dispute.

They are not asking for more of anything, just asking for fairness. This is not about stating special cases or pitting one set of workers against another, all the attacks on pensions are wrong but the Government commissioned a report on the fire service, the FBU did not call for it and they are refusing to listen to their own arguments.

So going back to the earlier question of what would you do; what would you do?

Suffolk

http://dasbeardsblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/support-your-fire-fighters/

http://dasbeardsblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/why-the-fire-fighters-matter/

Apathy is manufactured by consent

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

MP pay rises. Banker bonuses. NHS and public sector privatisation fire sale. Demonisation of the poor; All these things are rife within our current system, with the Government targeting minority groups to blame for the economic crises and yet, to this point, largely the public have done nothing about it.

The question is why?

Some have come to call this ‘the one’ syndrome. Everyone waiting for ‘the one’ to come along and lead us out of the darkness, but in doing this we have missed the very essence of the power we possess within ourselves. For this I blame the manipulation of history or should I say HIS-tory.

BElieve in yourself MLK MALCOLM X

History has taught us that individuals made change, my great example of this being the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement in America. History has defined the Civil Rights Movement as Martin Luther King Jnr and Malcolm X, but they as individuals were not the Civil Rights Movement, the people were.

People such as Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a bus, and a million other, faceless and now nameless, people who took part in direct action and civil disobedience, to try to bring about change, were the movement. Without these people and their united actions, there would have been no platform for the likes of Martin Luther King or Malcolm X to speak from and no change.

What we are left in the meantime is a public drifting passively through the ages, waiting for the next messiah to come along and lead them into the light, when all that they really have to do is lead themselves. The rhetoric of our past has disarmed us, done so to create an apathy and feeling of it cannot be done. The truth is that if determined enough, even a small group of people working as a collective and make change and the recent events in Egypt should serve as timely and truthful reminder of this for us all.

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Having a focal point to orate and galvanise the public comes with time, but first people need to take a stand together or else we will continue spinning our wheels, being led by the least amongst us.

We can continue to participate in the lies they create for us or we can begin to create our own reality.