Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 51 Number 13, April 17, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Fire and Re-Hire

Bus Drivers' Strike and Actions Continue

In what is becoming a significant battle against the use of "fire and rehire", over 400 drivers in Manchester, members of Unite, have been on continuous strike since February 28, standing their ground against a campaign of intimidation on the one hand and misinformation on the other. On April 5, to mark what was then five weeks on strike, drivers held a cavalcade through the streets surrounding the Go North West depot to cheering support.

The belligerent stand of the company, which is refusing to accommodate the interests and demands of its workers to any degree, and seeks simply to impose its dictate, is disrupting relations and creating an impasse. As a result, talks aimed at reaching a truce broke down on April 1.

Go North West is part of the multi-billion pound Go Ahead group. Under its plans, the drivers it employs, who earn on average £24,000, will be forced to accept a change in their contracted conditions meaning that they will be required to work longer for no additional pay.

Through this productivity drive, working time will be increased by what Unite has calculated as some 130 hours over the course of a year. The extra new value created by the drivers through this extended work time and realised in bus fares will not result in an additional claim of reproduced-value (wages, benefits or pensions) by the drivers, but will directly be additionally expropriated as added-value, or profit, by the company and other owners of capital such as the holders of its debt. Unite has estimated that the amount of additional unpaid work equates to £2,500 per year per driver.

Furthermore, existing sick pay policy, being revised, means a 67% cut in sick pay for workers with over five years' service. This is at a time during the pandemic which has highlighted the need for improvements for all workers, so that they can self-isolate when necessary, without loss to their right to a livelihood.

To achieve this blatant violation of the claims of its workers, the employer is tearing up long-agreed contracts of employment under the increasingly prevalent method of "fire and rehire". Even while negotiations were taking place, Go North West threatened to arbitrarily close the Queens Road Depot, placing the union under duress to accept the changes. This would result in the immediate closure of its 30 bus routes which serve Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Trafford and Warrington.

Adding to the atmosphere of intimidation, management had earlier installed a new system of surveillance cameras intended to crack down on workers for the slightest transgression of rules [1].

In this context, the successful organisation of a political motor cavalcade, in which more than 40 vehicles took part, had the significance of upholding the independent outlook of the workers and raised the consciousness in the community. It was supported by other workers and the community at large who lined the streets, and finished with a rally near the depot.

Unite branch secretary Pat Gleave said: "This was a really inspiring event. I believe most of Manchester realise this fight was a fight for Manchester and possibly the country as fire and rehire is an abhorrent act and is not acceptable at any time."

Four days after the event, Manchester Council voted that any company using "fire and rehire" will not be eligible for franchises to operate buses.

Unite North West regional secretary Ritchie James said:

"Unite has tried to resolve this dispute through negotiations and put forward over £1.3 million of savings proposals, but Go North West deemed this insufficient. As a result of the failure of the talks Unite will be stepping up its campaign to ensure that Go North West drops its plans to fire and rehire its loyal workers.

"Bus drivers who have kept working throughout the pandemic, risking their health and that of their families, deserve better than this. Manchester's passengers deserve better than this, Go North West is forcing them to use its dangerous rogue bus service, where the risk of Covid transmission is greatly increased and where numerous other regulations are breached or ignored."

Turning truth on its head, Go North West managing director Nigel Featham called Unite's "fire and rehire" claims "misleading".

But workers and their unions have identified "fire and rehire" for what it is: workers being re-contracted on unfavourable terms under threat of termination of employment, or in other cases forced to re-apply for their positions. Like the overt rule by police powers, transferred to the workplace, it has become a widespread phenomenon. Denigrating the right of workers to negotiate collective agreements is an attempt to render workers and their unions powerless to resist.

Imposing "fire and rehire" is 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. Exposing the company's intent to do away with any such equilibrium, the Go North West managing director also asserted that the company is losing nearly £2m annually due to what he labelled "outdated working practices". Instead, Go Ahead aim for unrestricted control over workers' conditions. This cannot be allowed to pass!

A powerful oligarchy of huge global monopolies has organised its anti-social offensive to restructure all arrangements from the level of the state down to individual workplaces. They tear up civil society arrangements and increasingly exercise control through direct imposition such as in law and governance. It is the right of all workers to have control over their conditions, and, in particular, they have a right to negotiate collective agreements as a starting point.

The need is to bring into being a new coherence and arrangements amongst the people, the socialised economy and the state. Workers must be able to maintain their current free collective bargaining arrangements. 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."Go Ahead Spy on Striking Manchester Bus Drivers", Workers' Weekly, March 6, 2021


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