Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 51 Number 9, March 13, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

The increasingly widespread use of "fire and rehire"

Resistance to Assault on Workers' Rights Continues to Build

The method of so-called "fire and rehire", where workers are recontracted on unfavourable terms under threat of termination of employment, or in other cases forced to re-apply for their positions, has become a widespread phenomenon particularly over the past year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Its use is now so extensive that it is being taken up by various unions, the TUC, and in parliament.

British Gas workers on strike against fire and rehire

Some 1 in 11 (9%) of workers of over 2,000 people polled for the TUC last November [1] had experienced the tactic in some form. The poll also found that this doubles (18%) for workers aged 18-24 years old. Black and national minority workers were also disproportionately affected (15%).

Unite is calling for a change in employment law to outlaw the practice [2], while GMB petitioned for parliament to debate the issue [3]. A parliamentary motion was placed by Shadow Employment Rights Secretary Andy McDonald on January 25, calling on the government to set out a timetable to introduce legislation to end fire and rehire tactics [4].

Fire and rehire is a method being used to marginalise workers and prevent them from meaningfully expressing any kind of opposition. It is akin to the overt rule by police powers.

Part and parcel of the anti-social offensive, a general disequilibrium exists in the social relation between those who work and those who employ them, the owners and controllers of business and the economy as a whole.

This disequilibrium exists both at the level of society and in individual workplaces, where employment relations have become entirely one-sided, under the absolute control of the employer. Without equilibrium, there is social disruption and chaos. All that exists is the one-sided relation dominated by competing powerful interests [5].

Imposition and arbitrariness are features of this situation and amount to a refusal by those in control to recognise the right of workers to negotiate collective agreements; as such, they amount to an attempt to render workers and their unions powerless to resist.

Recognition of this right is a starting point for regaining an equilibrium in a workplace and contributes to bringing about an equilibrium in society as a whole. People have a right to an equilibrium at work and in general to be able to live and work with a degree of security and without a constant and increasing sense of anxiety.

Such an equilibrium is possible and has existed in previous times but is only possible if based on the dignity of labour and the rights of workers, including to organise collectively and decide in consultation on pay, benefits, pensions and conditions. Equilibrium requires acceptable terms of employment that employers do not undermine.

Instead, the powerful oligarchy of huge global monopolies has organised an anti-social offensive to restructure all arrangements from the level of the state down to individual workplaces to increasingly polarise the social relation and exacerbate the prevailing disequilibrium for self-serving ends, against the interests of society. Unable to accept anything that restricts their assumed right to maximise private profit, they have torn up the civil society arrangements and increasingly exercise control through direct imposition.

It is therefore significant that the unions are taking this up politically and legally. It reflects the state of the conditions and the manner of how authority has increasingly come into contradiction with those conditions. The arrogance with which the owners of capital act with impunity through their offensive against the social interest and any pro-social arrangements calls into question their traditional and legal position of authority.

The need is to bring into being a new legal coherence and arrangements amongst the people, socialised economy and state. What is required is for working people to constitute a new kind of authority where they speak in their own name and are empowered to restrict the rights of the monopolies, allowing them to set the terms in establishing an equilibrium in their favour and in favour of society. To achieve this requires strengthening the workers' independent outlook and organisation, as part of building their resistance.

1. TUC, "'Fire and rehire' tactics have become widespread during pandemic - warns TUC", January 25, 2021
The TUC explain that BritainThinks conducted an online survey of 2,231 workers in England and Wales over November 19-29, 2020. Further: "All respondents were either in work, on furlough, or recently made redundant. Survey data has been weighted to be representative of the working population in England and Wales by age, gender, socioeconomic grade, working hours and security of work in line with ONS Labour Force survey data."
2. Unite the Union, "Stop 'fire and rehire'"
3. GMB, "Stop fire and rehire"
4. Hansard, "Employment Rights: Government Plans", House of Commons, Volume 688: debated on January 25, 2021
5. The reason for this state of affairs is ultimately the highly efficient and sophisticated nature of the modern socialised economy and its fragmented ownership into privately-owned competing parts, showing up as a dwindling rate of return on investment for the owners of capital.
These owners claim their profit, or added-value, from the new value created by the working class. Modern business, in order to compete, invests large amounts of capital in automated machinery, computers, and other means of production, giving rise to an economy that is so productive that a vast social product, in the form of goods and services, is produced with relatively few workers contributing work-time compared to the past.
As a result, a given commodity typically holds far less new value than the pre-existing old value transferred to it by machinery and so on. In this way, increasing productivity has greatly reduced the amount of new value produced in relation to transferred-value, the social product, and the total invested capital.
In the present, powerful global oligarchies are driven by ever fiercer competition to maximise their claims on the new value produced by the working class to counter the falling rate of return, to the point that now they cannot countenance any opposition and are demanding total control of every aspect of the economy, politics and the social relation in which they stand with the workers they employ, altogether taking the form of the anti-social offensive.


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