Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 51 Number 14, April 24, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Fire and rehire strikes

Workers at SPS Win Concessions and Gas Workers Continue Battle against Mass Sackings

Employers, particularly monopolies, across the socialised economy are imposing changes of working arrangements under variations of what is being labelled "fire and rehire". According to the TUC some 1 in 11 (9%) of workers of over 2,000 people polled last November had experienced the increasingly prevalent tactic in some form. Strikes at SPS Technologies and Centrica are two of many struggles against fire and rehire currently ongoing.

Strikes that have been held since March 12 at SPS Technologies, which supplies parts to the aerospace industry, have ended as an agreement was reached to end fire and rehire threats. Over 90% of around 200 workers, members of Unite, at the firm's Barkby Road site voted to accept the negotiated deal, in which planned cuts will be halved. The agreement also covers terms and conditions including pay for breaks, overtime pay, shift premiums and sick pay.

Unite regional officer Lakhy Mahal said: "Striking in the midst of the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic is not an easy thing to do. But our members would not roll over and accept SPS's fire and rehire demands.

"Their strength and solidarity has resulted in a deal that protects their incomes and that allows them to return to work with their heads held high.

"Fire and rehire is a blight that is taking hold in workplaces across the country, as employers look to take advantage of the pandemic and its aftermath to target workers' pay and T&Cs."

Even though the struggle is victorious for the moment, workers are conscious of the fact that concessions are not solutions. Settlement and truce bring an aftermath of stresses and strains where relations had been stretched.

Meanwhile, gas workers took their 43rd strike day on April 14, after British Gas (Centrica) sent confirmation letters of mass sackings to staff. The company had announced in July 2020 that those who refused to accept 15% cuts in pay rates and other changes would lose their jobs [1].

Since the April 14 strike day, British Gas and GMB have entered an official national lockout dispute. This will include further strike action and action short of a strike.

The number of people now waiting for emergency repairs is now reported to run into the hundreds of thousands, while millions more are waiting for service visits. British Gas has frozen sales of its standard boiler service insurance.

Strains in relations have been stretched to breaking point making settlement extremely difficult.

GMB regional secretary Justin Bowden said: "That British Gas doesn't give a toss for either its customers or staff is evidenced by the mass sacking of the engineers that it badly needs to service these customers.

"Whilst there is sadly nothing to stop a company bullying its own staff to sign terms they don't accept, and sacking those who won't submit to bullying, GMB members will not accept the outcome of this 9-month campaign of British Gas bullying. That is why they are staging their 43rd day of strike action today.

"We have news for Mr O'Shea and Centrica: this dispute will continue and become an official national lockout dispute. There will be more strikes and action short of strikes.

"With hundreds of thousands waiting in the backlog for service, customers have been treated as collateral and so it seems too will staff - as Mr O'Shea prepares to go down in history as the first major FT listed CEO to carry out mass sackings of his highly skilled and qualified engineers whilst his customers are waiting for visits. The workforce are Mr O'Shea's most valuable asset and he will be universally condemned by politicians and the public alike for doing so.

"The arrogant gamble has been lost. Any fool can start a war and, it seems, ruin a good business. History will not be kind to Mr O'Shea or the Centrica Board who failed to rein in him and his out-of-control leadership team."

The Manchester bus drivers' strike is also becoming a significant battle against the use of fire and rehire. There has been a continuous strike since February 28. The employer, Go North West, is arbitrarily tearing up long-agreed contracts of employment under the method of fire and rehire [2].

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. In general, the arrangements of civil society are being torn up and the elite increasingly exercise control through direct imposition.

In the workplace, employers dream of absolute control, but workers aim to reverse this delusion. The diktat of fire and rehire rejects the right of workers to negotiate and is an attempt to render workers and their unions powerless to resist. It must not pass.

It is the right of all workers to be able to have a voice and control over their conditions, and must be able to negotiate collective agreements, which is a starting point for regaining an equilibrium in a workplace. It also contributes to bringing about an equilibrium in society. Centrica, SPS, Go North West, and others imposing fire and rehire, are out of control resulting in chaos. At the level of society as a whole, and the arrangements of how it is governed, people throughout the country are concerned about the direction being taken and are expressing this in their opposition, for example, to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Through such legislation, the government is attempting to further curb the right of people to protest and dissent and to bolster the arbitrary powers of the executive and the judiciary.

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. They must also be allowed a resounding voice in the planning of a way out of the crisis in the economy, for which concessions provide no solution. Central is the direction of the economy, considering, particularly in the case of British Gas, energy and environmental concerns, and having fidelity to the human relations.

What is required is for working people to constitute a new kind of authority, with the aim of guaranteeing the rights of all, so that they have more control over their lives and livelihoods. This will allow them to set the terms in establishing an equilibrium in their favour and in favour of society instead of the rights of profit-seeking monopolies and the elite. Public right should trump monopoly right. To achieve this requires strengthening the workers' independent outlook and organisation, as part of building their resistance. It also requires the working class to strengthen its solidarity and step up its struggle so that it can put the full weight of its organisation and strength behind its consciousness and outlook.

(Sources: Union News, National Shop Stewards Network)

1. "British Gas Workers Take Further Strike Action as Centrica Reveals £700m Profits", Workers' Weekly, February 27, 2021
2. "Bus Drivers' Strike and Actions Continue", Workers' Weekly, April 17, 2021


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