Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 51 Number 24, October 30, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

"Fire and Rehire"

The Solution Lies with the Workers' Opposition Itself

"Fire and rehire", the unilateral tearing-up of employment contracts and rehiring on unfavourable terms under threat of termination of employment, has become a widespread phenomenon particularly since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. A part of the anti-social offensive, employers are restructuring workplace arrangements for self-serving ends, increasingly polarising the social relation in which they stand with workers. Its use is now so extensive that it is being taken up by various unions, the TUC, and in Parliament. Workers are calling a halt to the increasing polarisation of the relation with their employers, which is upsetting their lives and conditions. They demand an end to imposition.

On June 16, Labour MP for Brent North Barry Gardiner introduced a Private Member's bill, the Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill, in the House of Commons [1]. The Bill, which sought to reform employment legislation to discourage the use of fire and rehire and add some protection to workers affected by the practice, followed a number of previous parliamentary attempts to discuss the issue and change the law. These earlier endeavours include a report published by the Transport Committee in June 2020 and a Labour Party Opposition Day debate in January this year. 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. SNP MP Gavin Newlands introduced two identical Private Member's bills in May, both of which failed to progress through parliament.

In October 2020, the government gave the appearance of making a concession by commissioning a review into fire and rehire by arbitration service ACAS, which was published in June this year. The government, including the Prime Minister, has mouthed unease with the practice, but has singularly failed to act, and has blocked any attempt to do so.

Private Member's bills are public bills introduced by MPs who are not government ministers. Only a tiny fraction are ever enacted. However, Gardiner's Bill enjoyed the support of more than twenty trade unions, including funding a campaign of rallies and other events outside of parliament over a period of several months.

Employing the standard technique of "talking out" a bill, a form of filibuster, his bill was debated by MPs for nearly five hours. On behalf of the government, Business Minister Paul Scully spoke for over 40 minutes so that the bill's allocated debating time ran out, blocking further progress. The government also scheduled a statement on an unrelated health policy on Friday, a day usually reserved for proposed legislation tabled by backbench MPs, to add to the time pressure.

Gardiner told the Commons: "In politics, it's rare to find something that absolutely everyone agrees on and yet all the way from Len McCluskey to the Prime Minister himself, everyone agrees, fire and rehire is wrong. So why is the government determined to block this bill?"

On behalf of government, Scully gave the irrational position that such legislation, if enacted during a pandemic, would not be "the right way to reflect the concerns for the long-term issue about workers' rights".

"We will legislate if we need to," he said, "but we'll do it as a last resort, not as a first resort." In other words, the government intends to look the other way. The onus is rather on workers to protect themselves with "clearer guidance" from ACAS. It is made an individual matter.

"Fire and rehire" is part of the general disequilibrium in society in the social relation between employers and workers. It is a particularly sharp example of forcing decisions on workers without any consultation, but through simple dictate. 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. They are enforcing their control both politically and in the workplace.

Politically, the cartel party system disempowers the general population. The big parties are a block to any role by the whole polity in decision-making; they are the gatekeepers to power. The Labour Party itself is such a cartel party forming an ineffective "official opposition" in an anachronistic parliament. In contrast, outside of parliament, stands the real opposition, the Workers' Opposition, which continually strives to the cohesion and organisation that will empower the people so that they can speak and act in their own name.

Particularly arising from the conditions of the pandemic is a new consciousness amongst workers. They are demanding their rights, and speaking out that things cannot continue in this way. At the same time, the crisis is deepening massively and business is simply demanding further and further concessions out of workers to try to solve their crisis. But concessions are not solutions. This contradiction is getting sharp.

What is evident is the growing resistance. The workers are demonstrating that it is they who are able to provide the solutions for society, with their own outlook, not from the capital-centred perspective. It is only they who have as their own interests the general interests of society, not blinkered by the fragmentation of the socialised economy into its state of mutual competition. They look to a different direction for the socialised economy, which does not force concessions from them, but which is in fact aimed at meeting their needs and guaranteeing their rights.

The workers therefore increasingly require a say over all matters affecting society and the economy. In fact, they need to be the determining factor, the decisive force in decision-making. It is increasingly clear that the real political opposition is coming from the working class and broad sections of people on all fronts. Regarding fire and rehire, it is evidently the organised workers' movement that has provided even the parliamentary opposition. For workers to constitute themselves the opposition is not only what is necessary, but is actually what is taking place.

While the opposition of the workers comes from a position of resistance and blocking what the powers that be are trying to force from the workers, it goes beyond reacting to events. It is the workers having their own independent solutions and their independent thinking, and importantly creating their own forms of decision-making from this position of opposition.

In challenging the authority, the Workers' Opposition engages in the battle of democracy, aiming at winning it in favour of the working class and people with new forms of democracy, bringing the new democratic personality into being. This means working out what the mechanisms of decision-making are and the new forms of public authority that are required. The need exposed by "fire and rehire" is for a new kind of authority where workers speak in their own name and are empowered to restrict the rights of the monopolies. To achieve this requires building the Workers' Opposition itself.

Note
[1] The full title of the Bill is: "A Bill to amend the law relating to workplace information and consultation, employment protection and trade union rights to provide safeguards for workers against dismissal and re-engagement on inferior terms and conditions; and for connected purposes."

The major source for this article is the House of Commons Research Briefing on the Bill, published on October 18, 2021:
https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9344/

This source explains that the Bill would:


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