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Fire Brigades Union (FBU)

Labour and Climate Activists Protest Against Anti-union Laws

By staff - Free Our Unions, October 12, 2022

Around 80 activists from a range of campaign groups and unions protested outside the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on 10 October, as part of an action called by Free Our Unions and Earth Strike UK’s Empower the Unions initiative. As far as we know, this is the first piece of direct action called specifically to protest the Truss government’s plans for new anti-union laws since Truss revealed the policy.

BEIS was chosen because it will likely be central to developing the legislation for new restrictions on strikes, and because it is a key department in terms of climate policy. Free Our Unions has sought active coordination with activists from the climate movement, and Earth Strike UK’s Empower the Unions initiative seeks to highlight the specific ways in which anti-union laws constrain workers’ ability to take action in defence of the climate.

Speakers at the protest included Mark Boothroyd (A&E nurse and Unite activist); Sab (Earth Strike UK activist and Industrial Workers of the World organier); Ruth Cashman (Lambeth Unison); Jared Wood (RMT London Transport Regional Organiser); Ria Patel (Green Party Equality and Diversity spokesperson); EC (PCS rep); Andy Warren (firefighter and local rep for the FBU); Hamish (Exctinction Rebellion Trade Unionists); and Benedict Flexen (Earth Strike UK: Empower the Unions).

Speeches were punctuated by chanting, accompanied by drumming from the Extinction Rebellion samba band.

Following the protest, an assembly took place in a venue nearby, discussing various aspects of the politics of anti-union laws, and proposals for campaigning on the issue forward in our workplaces and unions.

“Will be too much to deal with”: FBU responds to IPCC climate change flooding and extreme heat warning

By staff - Fire Brigades Union, March 1, 2022

The FBU has responded to a new UN report on climate change by stating that much more needs to be done on climate change in terms of both prevention and adapting to its devastating impacts. 

The report, released yesterday and from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggests that Europe will face increasingly severe climate impacts, including in terms of heatwaves and flooding, unless action is taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Firefighters are the public service primarily tasked with responding to flooding incidents in the UK. There are known links between heatwaves and wildfires, which firefighters are also responsible for responding to.

Commenting, Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said:

“We have had so many warnings now but still our politicians are not taking climate change seriously. They’re not accelerating changes to our economy and our society as quickly as they need to, and they’re not investing in a vital piece of climate change adaptation: the fire and rescue service. Very soon we could be seeing devastating flooding and heatwaves on our shores, and a fire and rescue service that has seen huge cuts including one in every five firefighters since 2010 will find this too much to deal with. We don’t even have statutory funding for dealing with flooding in England: that’s an embarrassment and symbolic of a government hiding its head in the sand as an existential crisis approaches.”

You can view more detail around the Fire Brigades Union’s campaigning on climate change here.

Firefighters on the front line of the climate emergency

By Denise Christie - Morning Star, November 19, 2021

From flooding to forest blazes, firefighters all over Britain are already engaged with the practical battle against the climate crisis – but our services are not yet fully prepared for the enormous implications of the emergency, writes DENISE CHRISTIE of the Fire Brigades Union.

COP26 is an opportunity for our movement to demonstrate our solidarity with working people and their communities around the world and to organise together to create the just and green world we want and need, to allow us to live safely and fairly.

We must also be fully active in the campaign that Cop26 must be a focus to organise against the climate emergency in solidarity with all working people.

The climate crisis is a crisis of social justice, with those who have done least to cause the crisis and who are least able to address it facing the worst effects.

What’s it got to do with firefighters and the FBU?

Firefighters are on the front line of tackling the climate emergency. Climate change is increasing the risk of wildfires, such as grassland and forest fires and floods, including from surface water, rivers and the sea.

It will also affect the supply and availability of water and may give rise to more extreme weather events.

These hazards will have implications for the working conditions of firefighters. The climate emergency will require significant changes to appliances, to the equipment available to firefighters, and to training.

We will also need greater awareness of firefighters’ health implications, greater pumping capability and water use and increased capacity within our operational fire control rooms.

The fire and rescue service needs the staff, resources and equipment to tackle the impact of this climate emergency. There is no logic to job cuts and shutting fire stations and control rooms when these risks are likely to increase in the years ahead.

FBU sounds alarm over UN climate report

By Staff - Fire Brigades Union, August 10, 2021

The FBU has joined the chorus of alarm at the UN’s latest climate report. Published yesterday, the report is the world’s largest ever report into climate change.

It concludes that within the next two decades, temperatures are likely to rise by more than the vital 1.5C limit, bringing widespread devastation and extreme weather. According to the report only “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in emissions” can prevent such breakdown.

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said:

“Firefighters here and across the world are on the front line of the climate crisis. We see the effects of climate change every time we fight wildfires and save people from floods, and we will fight as hard as we can for politicians to wake up and take notice. As a humanitarian service we cannot stand by and watch this happen.

”This report confirms that human activity is responsible for climate change and we are running out of time to save ourselves. But this requires fundamental political, social and economic change across the world, and those in power have, so far, failed in the face of this immense challenge.

“It also tallies closely with what firefighters across the world experience on a daily basis: a planet rapidly breaking down. Now, we have a view of the bigger picture – that humanity has a final chance to act before huge devastation occurs.”

The report states that we have already caused 1C of heating, close to the 1.5C danger limit agreed in the Paris climate deal and emphasised as a red line in a 2018 UN report. If emissions don’t fall in the next couple of decades then according to the report temperatures will rise by 3C, and if they don’t fall at all temperatures will rise by 4-5C. The latter has been described as “apocalypse territory”.

It states that every corner of the planet is already being affected and it could get far worse if the remaining slim chance to stop heating over 1.5C is not immediately grasped.

As well as making clear the damage that climate change is doing and will do to the planet, the report makes it clear that the climate crisis is unequivocally caused by human activities.

The 42 page summary of the report has been agreed, line-by-line, by every government on the planet.

Trade unions in the UK engagement with climate change

By Catherine Hookes - Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, August 15, 2017

Despite being faced with many immediate battles to fight, it is to the credit of many trade unions that they are also addressing the long term wellbeing of their members, and of future generations, by introducing policies to tackle climate change. A new report providing the first ever overview of the climate change policies of 17 major UK trade unions could help raise wider awareness of this important work.

The author, Catherine Hookes, is studying for a masters degree at Lund University, Sweden, and her research drew on a comprehensive web review of policies in these unions, going into more depth for many of the unions, interviewing key figures and activists. The research was facilitated by the Campaign against Climate Change.

For anyone within the trade union movement concerned about climate change (or for campaigners wishing to engage with trade unions on these issues) this report is of practical use in understanding the context, the diversity of different trade unions' approaches, and the progress that has been made in the campaign for a just transition to a low carbon economy.

While every attempt was made to ensure the report is comprehensive, and accurately reflects union positions, there are clearly controversies and different viewpoints over issues such as fracking and aviation. Trade unions with members in carbon intensive industries will always have a challenging task in addressing climate change, but their engagement in this issue is vital. And, of course, this is a rapidly changing field. It is very encouraging that since the report was written, Unison has voted to campaign for pension fund divestment. This is an important step in making local authority pension funds secure from the risk (both financial and moral) of fossil fuel investment.

Anyone attending TUC congress this September is welcome to join us at our fringe meeting, 'Another world is possible: jobs and a safe climate', to take part in the ongoing discussion on the role of trade unions in tackling climate change.

Read the text (PDF).

It's Time to Take Over the Big Energy Firms

By staff - Fire Brigades Union, August 2014

How can we solve the problems of climate change, eliminate fuel poverty and improve energy security? Most politicians look to the market for solutions – but these plainly do not work.

The climate crisis has been caused largely by around 100 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawn of the industrial age.

Fifty of those fi rms are privately-owned – mostly oil companies such as Chevron, Exxon, BP and Royal Dutch Shell and coal producers such as British Coal Corp, Peabody Energy and BHP Billiton. Some 31 of the companies are state-owned companies such as Saudi Aramco, Gazprom and Statoil. Nine were government-run industries, producing mainly coal in countries such as China, the former Soviet Union, North Korea and Poland.

Everyone knows that heating and lighting our homes are basic necessities – yet the price of doing so continues to spiral upwards across the globe. It’s a disgrace that 25,000 people die of the cold every winter in the UK. Yet the government’s own projections say that gas prices are likely to go up over the next decade. Poorer families spend more than high earning households as a proportion of their spending on energy bills. This fuel poverty is a blight on the lives of millions – and a damning indictment of the welfare system in this day and age.

The UK has some of the least energy efficient households in Europe. Refurbishing, modernising and rebuilding the housing stock would make sense for improving living standards, reducing carbon emissions and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. However the rule of the market does not and will not provide the investment needed.

Read the report (PDF).

Climate Change: Key issues for the Fire and Rescue Service

By staff - Fire Brigades Union, March 25, 2010

Climate change is a critical issue for the fire and rescue service in the UK. It is the greatest environmental challenge facing humanity at present. But government policy in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is also reshaping the political and industrial terrain around tackling climate change.

The FBU is committed to political and industrial campaigning on climate change. The union will campaign within the fire and rescue service and work with labour movement bodies and in the wider community to tackle one of the most fundamental questions of our age.

Scientists predict that the UK climate will become warmer, with high summer temperatures more frequent and very cold winters increasingly rare. Average summer temperatures are expected to rise between 3°C and 4°C by the 2080s. Winters are expected to be wetter and summers drier. Sea levels will rise around most of the UK and there may be more frequent storm surges. Climate change will affect all regions of the UK, though not to the same degree.

Climate change will increase the risk of grassland and forest fires. It will increase the risk of floods, including from surface water, rivers and from the sea. Climate change will affect the supply and availability of water and may give rise to more extreme weather events.

These hazards will have implications for the working conditions of firefighters. Climate change will require significant changes to appliances, to the equipment available to firefighters, to training, greater awareness of firefighters’ health implications, to pumping capability and water use and increased call centre capacity.

The UK fire service is not yet prepared for the enormous implications of climate change. The service needs the staff, resources and equipment to tackle grassland fires, floods, drought and storms. There is no logic to job cuts and shutting fire stations when these risks are likely to increase in the years ahead. Firefighting is a green job and firefighters can play a vital role in helping society adapt to climate change.

Government policy on climate change and the fire and rescue service is inadequate. There is a pressing need for a statutory duty to respond to flooding events, backed by funding and resources. The increased risks from heat waves, including wild fires need to fully understood and acted upon. The fire and rescue service should be included in government initiatives on climate change, rather than excluded or forgotten as it appears at present.

FBU reps believe that the fire and rescue service can do much more to reduce its carbon footprint. Fire and rescue authorities are not doing enough on energy efficiency, transport and recycling. Much more can be done to adapt to and prepare for extreme weather. But cuts, penny-pinching and a lack of training are holding back firefighters from tackling these issues.

FBU reps need time off and facilities to act on climate change. The trade union movement is campaigning for legal rights for union environment reps. More could be achieved through national and local agreements, brigade committees, inspections and green events. The fire and rescue service should actively encourage firefighters to participate in the process of tackling climate change.

Read the text (PDF).

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