As the US President arrives on British soil, Fire Brigades Union official Riccardo La Torre explains why being a firefighter is also about international solidarity.
This month will see members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) protesting Trump’s politics of hate in London and, not long after, marching against the Tommy Robinson supporting Football Lads Alliance in Cambridge.
One of the reasons for this is history. There is a proud history of firefighters across the globe standing up for working people and challenging ideologies that would harm them.
From the Austrian and Italian firefighters, whom as partisans in the Second World War, gave their lives fighting to liberate Europe from fascism, to the late FBU general secretary Ken Cameron’s pioneering campaigning against Apartheid – firefighters have consistently challenged the hateful and divisive tactics of the far-right.
Today’s firefighters must uphold this tradition. We have a duty to protect our communities in emergencies, but a FBU firefighter must also remember those who came before us and their legacy of fighting hate and division as well as fires.
Today, in part, that threat faces us in the form of dog-whistling, race-baiting politicians like Donald Trump and his racist cheerleaders, rising up across the world on his coat-tails.
Firefighters hold a unique position in society and as such have an important part to play in countering the dangerous message these groups and politicians persist in promulgating.
The tactic of dividing working people is something we’ve seen repeated throughout history in an attempt to get us fighting each other rather than striking upwards, at those who are really responsible for the problems we face.
FBU members know the truth. We know that the fact we have lost nearly 12,000 firefighters since 2010, faced nearly a decade of pay restraints and the worst cuts in a generation aren’t the fault of Polish bricklayers. We know that the growing number of families in our communities relying on food banks isn’t down to refugees fleeing war. We know it wasn’t a Romanian nurse who sailed away on a yacht with the BHS pension fund or refused McDonald’s workers the dignity of a living wage.
Those responsible are of course the casino bankers, the tax-dodging super rich, the anti-worker employers and the complicitous politicians and press barons.
That’s why this rhetoric is being pushed by the Trumps, Salvinis and Robinsons of the world.
It’s an attempt to distract us, to protect the system they profit from at our expense, to serve their own agendas and masters. Like those who came before us did, today’s firefighters refuse to fall for it.
We also mustn’t forget that the Fire Service is a humanitarian service – we risk our lives to help those in need, regardless of race, religion or social status, it’s what we do.
It would be perverse to ignore the plight of refugees and migrants that find themselves in atrocious and life threatening situations fleeing war, oppression, death and poverty only, to be scapegoated or herded into camps and locked in cages when they reach supposed safety. It would fly in the face of everything we stand for.
Unfortunately, as in previous hard times, the message of the far-right appears to be gaining momentum as they organise and capitalise on any small victory.
Even a few misguided voices within the trade union movement, including a minority in my own union, have been swayed to readily assign blame to workers who have simply been born on a different piece of rock to them, rather than pointing towards inadequate workers’ rights and ideological austerity. This only serves to pitch the precarious worker against the vulnerable poor.
The June 9th ‘Free Tommy’ Democratic Football Lads Alliance demonstration in London saw an estimated 15,000 people take to the streets. 50,000 have signed his petition. We can’t simply stand back and watch the numbers swell further.
This is why, as workers and trade unionists, we must be loud and why we must be visible in our opposition to the rise of bigotry, hatred and fascism. This is why we firefighters will be marching.
Riccardo la Torre is the Eastern regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.