Over the past few weeksFBU members across the country have been photographed wearing the new t-shirt: We Rescue People, Not Banks. The origin of this slogan tells us a lot about our profession and the challenges we face. The t-shirt was seen nationally when Russell Brand wore one at the recent Peoples’ Assembly demonstration against austerity. It has been worn on pickets and demonstrations across the country. It is becoming very popular and we are struggling to keep up with demand.
Origins in Spain
Spain, like most of Europe, has suffered the consequences of the long economic crisis in the aftermath of the banking collapses of 2007/8. Like many others, the Spanish government reacted by forcing through cuts and austerity measures. Unemployment and poverty have increased dramatically.
One consequence of this has been a dramatic increase in homelessness and in the number of evictions as people struggle to pay their rent or mortgages. During last year evictions were running at 500 a day, wrecking the lives of tens of thousands of families. This began to provoke resistance and anti- eviction campaigns developed across much of Spain.
In February 2013, firefighters in Coruna, a town in Northern Spain, were sent to evict 86 year old Aurelia Rey from the apartment where she had lived since 1979.
On arrival, however, the firefighters refused to help carry out the eviction. As news of this spread, firefighters adopted the slogan; “We Rescue People, Not Banks.”
This sums up the humanitarian role that firefighters are expected to play by local communities. Yet the Spanish firefighters were being asked to implement evictions which were increasing as a result of growing poverty and economic hardship. At the same time the same firefighters had themselves been facing cuts, closures and attacks on their pay and pensions – all as a result of the same economic crisis which neither they nor Mrs. Rey had caused.
The Spanish firefighters’ slogan expresses opposition to the cuts and closures and to attacks on pay and pensions. At the same time it highlights the vital life-saving, humanitarian role of our profession.
The slogan was soon flying on banners from fire stations across much of Spain. It has been seen on firefighters’ marches and demonstrations ever since. Trade union firefighters in Barcelona designed a t-shirt which we have adapted as part of our campaign here in the UK.
The slogan caught on across Spain
In the UK we are facing the worst attacks on the fire service in history. We have be never seen the scale of cuts and closures we see today. Living standards are falling for firefighters, as they are for millions of other workers. And of course, at the same time, our pensions are being stolen from us. There is a clear and obvious link between what is happening to us and what is happening in Spain, or indeed in Greece, Italy or the USA. Workers are being squeezed as a result of an economic crisis we did not create. Public services are being cut and privatised and lives are being wrecked.
The original Catalan T-shirt design
We recognised these links when we asked Spanish firefighters to attend and speak at our national rally last October. We recognise it again through our t-shirt slogan. In a wonderful twist we recently received a letter from firefighters in Barcelona who had designed the original (Catalan) version of this t-shirt. After further exchanges of information and material, they sent us a photo of Barcelona firefighters with FBU flags and t-shirts; solidarity in action.
We will continue to distribute more of them over the coming weeks through FBU brigade committees. Get hold of one – wear it with pride.