Yesterday I joined firefighters in their fight for pension justice as they descended upon Westminster and then Downing Street, demanding answers to the question on how MPs can mislead the House of Commons with impunity, but not everyone was happy with their actions.
I offered the police officer in these pictures a sponge to clean up politics. Cleaning up politics is not just about Ministers misleading the house over pension regulations, it is about MPs voting on debates that affect our lives without mandates from their constituents or voting how their party whip tells them too and not having even heard the arguments, it’s also about historical acts of lying such as when the Prime Minister lied to the House of Commons about weapons of mass destruction, resulting in almost 500 dead UK service personnel and hundreds more injured. We have serious problems with our political system, this can’t be as good as it gets.
The police officer here said he didn’t want the sponge, I told him that the government were after his pension too, which he agreed but he said that there were “ways of doing things and that this wasn’t it.” I informed him that firefighters had tried that and been sold out, so now they were taking to the streets.
With a political system that is designed to serve and protect itself, people are being left with no choice but to take things into their own hands and head to the streets. Civil disobedience and economic withdrawal have been pillars of change throughout our history, we are likely to see more of this if things continue on the path we are on.
To the man who said: “there are ways of doing things and this isn’t it.” I say this is the only way things have ever changed.
Yesterday, thousands of firefighters brought London to a stand still as they descended on Westminster in anger at changes to their pension arrangements, during a 24 hour strike called by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
Fire Minister, Penny Mordaunt and the Government stand accused of deliberately misleading MPs in the House of Commons during a debate that took place on December 15th 2014. During the debate the Minister for fire stated six times that firefighters would be guaranteed their pension in the event that they failed to maintain fitness due to the natural aging process. This was further supported by comments made by DCLG Secretary, Eric Pickles, who made the same guarantees. These alleged guarantees came after the Ministers were informed BEFORE the debate took place by the fire service employers that legal advice showed there was no guarantee in the current regulation wording.
Following several weeks of lobbying, firefighters had too confirmed that the guarantee assured in the House of Commons was not as resolute as claimed and that many firefighters (between 66% and 92% from age 55-60) face a very real risk of having no job and no pension, just for aging.
Members of the FBU had earlier been at a rally in Westminster Methodist Hall and upon exiting, took to the streets and marched on Westminster, demanding that David Cameron answer for the potential misleading of parliament. The FBU had written three times calling for answers but to no avail. They then headed to Downing Street and made their feelings heard.
There was much anger on the streets, firefighters said they had made every attempt to follow due process with an Early Day Motion -454 (supported by the Labour Party) laid against the pension regulations submitted in late 2014 but now felt they were left no choice but to take to the streets. There was a significant show of anger and frustration, one firefighter stopped to tell me that they no longer felt they had a voice and that they could no longer trust politicians to do the right thing after so much effort was expended during the lobbying phase of EDM 454, only for it to be undone by half-truths and deception.
The message of the day was clear; they are not going away, they will be back.
When the mainstream media plays out the stories and view of firefighters striking, the images they conjure up are ones of greed and inflexibility – the unwillingness to ‘modernise’ and embrace change. This could not be further from the truth. Firefighters are the champions of change.
They have been for decades.
The images I conjure are of them riding fire engines, at community fates or stood on picket lines fighting for their rights and the rights and safety of people in their communities. They are images of their families, who worry every time they leave the house for work in the morning. Their children, the ones that they dare to dream bigger for than they had dreamt for themselves and the children of families they may never meet; the ones sitting on fire engines, squirting hosereels and dressing up at school visits in mini fire uniforms – dreaming of one day doing the job that they admire so dearly in their youth. The ones they rescue from fires or the families whom they reunite when they are rescued from car accidents.
They are the ones that firefighters fight and strike for, whether they realise that overtly or not. They are post guardians, for future firefighters, they are the silent protectors who respond whenever we call them. They can be brash, yet tender, they can be serious but full of laughter. They see the good in people most would dismiss, they make mistakes, but who doesn’t? They are human, like you or I, just people who joined a career, to serve their community in the best way they know how, on a fire engine. A teacher, a friend, but a hero? A saviour? These are not their words. A firefighter is not in it for the accolades, but to give us a second chance if we have to dial the 9’s, they will fight for us, it’s in their name and it is why we should fight for them.
That is why the government should honour their deals, they are not after a hero’s pension, just what they had signed and agreed. They deserve better and so do we.