By Daphne Liddle
THREE Fire Brigade Union pickets were injured, two of them seriously, by scabs who deliberately drove vehicles at them at speed while Management is spreading smears to gutter press accusing pickets of intimidation, wanting to “stop firework night” along the usual claims of the high-life for senior FBU officials
The attacks happened last Monday during the second London one-day strike in a dispute over threats to sack more than 5,000 firefighters if they don’t sign a new contract on shift arrangements..
The first incident happened in Croydon fire station when a picket was knocked down and seriously injured by a speeding car driven by a scab.
Fire Brigade Union president Mick Shaw, who was there, described what happened: “A fire engine returned from an incident and drove into the fire station, its crew refusing to wind down their windows and talk to the pickets. But at least it drove slowly, at the brigade maximum of five mph, so that the pickets could get out of the way before they were mown down.
“It was followed by a car driven by the officers, and as the pickets tried to talk to the driver of the car, it accelerated suddenly and one of the striking firefighters was thrown up and into the windscreen, then several feet in front of the car.
“We asked the AssetCo employees who had control of our fire station for the first aid kit and some blankets, but they would not give them to us despite the obviously serious nature of the injuries.
“An ambulance was called at once, and the ambulance crew asked for an air ambulance. Our member was not able to move during the 25 minutes between being hit and being taken away in the ambulance.” The scab, a non-union manager, has been arrested.
The second incident happened in Dagenham when firefighter Graham Beers held his hand up at the side of a road to signal to the crew of a fire engine returning to the fire station that they should stop and speak to him.
“The fire engine swerved towards me and hit my hand” said Beers, who suffered a sprained and badly bruised hand.
In the third incident a fire engine was deliberately driven into the FBU London representative Ian Leahair, at Southwark fire station. This happened more than two hours after the strike ended.
There was a huge police presence at Southwark, and most FBU members were held in a police pen on the opposite side of the road. Just eight pickets were allowed.
When the scab fire engines started to return, the permitted eight pickets, in the midst of dozens of police officers, stood in front and asked the drivers to stop while they spoke to them.
The first two fire engines stopped for a couple of minutes but the third didn’t stop. It just kept coming. As the pickets fled before it, the fire engine actually picked up speed, and hit Ian Leahair and then one of the police officers, before the police finally persuaded the driver to stop.
By then, Ian Leahair’s legs and half his body were underneath the fire engine and he was clearly in pain.
FBU pickets yelled at the driver to reverse, but he would not do so until instructed to do so by the police. The policeman suffered a bruised leg. Ian Leahair has injured ribs. He was pulled out and helped to the side of the road.
After that, the police handled the arrival of the rest of the fire engines very differently. Police officers themselves stopped the fire engines, gave the pickets their couple of minutes, then cleared the way for the engines.
The police, in effect, began to protect the pickets from the strike-breakers.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “This has been a day of shocking violence directed at London’s firefighters.
“An incredible pattern seems to be emerging. It looks as though the private company hired to do our work has instructed its drivers to drive fast through picket lines. We ended the day in the extraordinary situation where the police had to protect striking firefighters from recklessly speeding vehicles, which were driven by those paid to break the strike.”
The shocking behaviour of the LFB management will only increase the resolve of the firefighters and win them the support of Londoners and all trade unionists throughout the country.