They sacked the eight remaining cooks at the busiest of the county’s 47 fire stations — the rest had been sacked earlier.
The saving was £200 per job. It means firefighters covering heavily populated, working-class inner-city areas like Gipton in East Leeds no longer have a proper meal prepared for them during their shift. The average 38 call-outs a day leave crews with no time to prepare food.
The sacking of the cooks wasn’t even a hint of what was to come.
Within weeks the fire authority was told it was to lose £20 million from its £93.5m annual budget.
That meant initially 120 jobs would have to go, including 33 front-line firefighters and more than 40 posts in key areas such as fire prevention.
Even worse has happened since. Sixteen of the 47 stations are now to be axed and replaced by only eight covering double the area — thousands more homes, businesses, schools and other buildings. Gipton and a neighbouring station are among them.
Most of the closures are in predominantly working-class areas, towns such as Dewsbury and Batley — former textile centres already hit by loss of industry.
The toll of jobs to be lost has risen. West Yorkshire faces losing 300 of its 1,450 firefighters by 2014 through redundancy or retirement.
The increased risk to life and limb caused by cuts, predicted by the Fire Brigades Union, is already having an effect.
One Leeds fire victim whose hands were burned could not be given first-aid treatment by the fire crew because they were operating a new, smaller — and cheaper — fire vehicle which had no first-aid kit.
Contrast what the coalition government is doing in its shire counties. Government funds to fire services in some are being increased, and in many more held steady.
West Yorkshire Fire Service’s experience is a microcosm of the fate of fire services in the big metropolitan boroughs across the country.
And what is happening to fire services is being mirrored across all public services.
Then there are the benefit cuts. Back in Leeds, 11 of the city’s electoral wards have been classified as “acutely deprived” according to the European Union’s economic yardstick. As the benefit cuts take effect their plight will worsen.
And the worst is yet to come.
If the coalition government is allowed to succeed, disaster is approaching Yorkshire and the Humber. The region has still not recovered from the battering it received in the 1980s and ’90s.
Its coalmining industry was devastated. Two working pits remain in the county where there were more than 50 before the epic 1984-85 miners’ strike. The steel industry in Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham in South Yorkshire was butchered.
The story is the same in other northern regions. Coalmining in north-west England, and in the Newcastle-based Northern region, was wiped out in the late ’80s and early ’90s along with other industries.
Mass unemployment is already back in the regions’ major centres.
But now there’s a fightback.
And it’s one with a real chance of winning as the public recognises there is an alternative to the class-based failed economics of the multimillionaire-led Tories and their lickspittle Lib Dem allies.
It involves trade unions and communities working together.
Disabled workers at the Remploy factory at Chesterfield in Derbyshire were out on strike last week defending their jobs from one of the government’s most callous attacks — the closure of factories which exist to employ people with disabilities.
More strike action is planned in the public sector, but — and this is the essential point — the growing resistance is wider than the trade union movement.
Across the north publicly supported campaigns are emerging against specific cuts and closures.
Many are bringing trade unions and communities together.
Yorkshire and the Humber TUC regional secretary Bill Adams said: “We are supporting a wide range of groups.
“Most big centres in the region have ‘Action Against the Cuts’ groups — like Sheffield, Leeds and Hull — which are centred around trades councils. There are public meetings, marches, demonstrations.
“In York the trades council has been revitalised. There have been packed public meetings. One on the NHS cuts had 100 people there — concerned residents. They set up a Save York NHS group. There was a session on police cuts and they set up a campaign group on that.”
In Hull unions are involved in a campaign with the public to resist £99m in cuts from the local NHS budget. Community campaigns backed by the FBU are springing up around threatened fire stations.
Another act of resistance in both Yorkshire and the north-west region involves targeting coalition MPs.
Bill Adams said: “We are telling them: You have a majority of 1,900. There are 10,000 public-sector workers living in your constituency. Do you really want to support regional pay?”
The regional TUC is working with church organisations to investigate poverty — in Leeds one church is providing food parcels for families unable to feed their children properly, even from homes with a working adult.
North-west regional TUC is working with community and campaign groups in Tory and Lib Dem held constituencies, pumping in resources. Its spokesman Matt Finnegan said: “We are targeting coalition-held seats in the region because their MPs are making decisions which are hitting our community hard. They are the ones responsible for people being sacked, for libraries and Sure Start centres being closed.
“We make no apology for lobbying them and pressurising them as hard as possible to change course.”
The north-west TUC is urging councils to pass model motions beefing up policy on issues such as youth unemployment.
“We are working with community, voluntary, charity and church groups to identify the impact of austerity and cuts, raise public awareness, increase visible activity, media work,” says Finnegan.
Decisions at this week’s Congress will influence the growth and effectiveness of the fightback.
Unison’s Yorkshire and the Humber regional secretary John Cafferty said: “We need to be united. We need to work together as we have never worked before if we are to get the Tories and Lib Dems out — and get a government that is going to deliver for us.”
The first demonstration of united unions, and unions united with the public, will be the TUC march and rally in London on October 20.
“We are getting masses of enquiries from the public asking about transport,” said Bill Adams.
Hope to see you there.
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