Wide screen devices may view this page better by clicking here

Arguments for socialism :: Workers



triangleArguments for socialism




spotAround the UK

All keywords

All Arguments for socialism subcategories:

* Arguments for socialism


Globalisation Anticapitalism



Highlight keywords  |Print this articlePrint this article
From: The Socialist issue 1130, 21 April 2021: Build a socialist alternative

Search site for keywords: British Gas - Gas - Fire - Workers - GMB - Strike

Fight back against British Gas bosses' 'fire and rehire' offensive

British Gas workers on strike. Photo Iain Dalton

British Gas workers on strike. Photo Iain Dalton   (Click to enlarge)

Rob Williams, Socialist Party executive committee

On their 43rd day of strike action on 14 April, hundreds of GMB members in British Gas were facing the sack after refusing to agree the imposition of new contracts. Car transporters were filled with blue company vans - a sign of the brutal fire and rehire bludgeon of the bosses of British Gas and its privateer corporate owner Centrica. Behind each van there is a worker with a family.

The workers will now discuss the way forward, and what further action can be taken, but GMB members, mainly 7,500 service engineers out of a total workforce of 20,000, have fought hard to defend hard-won terms and conditions from attack, which could see some lose up to 15,000. This is even more impressive after the other three unions - Unison, Unite and Prospect - had accepted a negotiated settlement, to leave the GMB to fight alone.

The highpoint of the dispute was at the beginning of March, when members rejected the company's 'offer' by a massive margin, up to 80% in some sectors, despite the union mistakenly not giving a recommendation. That could have been the moment to escalate the dispute, possibly to all-out action.

The imposed new contracts will mean full-time engineers forced to work 40 hours a week, an increase of three hours, and lose premiums when needed to work weekends and public holidays. Yet as strikers have said, how can the management justify these attacks, when the lockdown has meant more demand for gas as people have had to work from home? They know this is about boosting profits.

Like so many other companies such as British Airways and British Telecom, British Gas bosses think that the Covid crisis has shocked workers and sense an opportunity to use 'fire and rehire'. It won't be lost on workers in these companies that they were all once publicly owned, and were privatised by the Tories. The unions must campaign for them all to be renationalised as part of their disputes. This is particularly important given the scale of the Covid crisis.

To this infamous list should be added the Labour council of Tower Hamlets, who provoked a Unison strike last summer through the same vicious methods. And in all these companies and many others, including Go Ahead buses in Manchester currently on indefinite strike, workers have fought back with determined action.

However, what has been lacking is the unions involved in these disputes attempting to co-ordinate across all the employers, in order to develop a united front that builds workers' confidence as well as levering pressure on the Tories on 'fire and rehire' - rather than just parliamentary petitions.

Action has often pushed management back or at least won significant improvements. And it is always better to have fought an attack rather than immediately agree concessions. It issues a warning to management about any further offensive, and even if workers suffer a setback, if action is taken, at least it has more chance of keeping the union intact and creates a fighting record in the workplace. Whatever happens now in British Gas, the action that has been taken will force the bosses to think very carefully about more attacks.

The GMB has done well to build the dispute during Covid-19 and its restrictions as well as the practical challenges that have been presented, because most, if not all, the depots have been closed over time. This has often seen workers pick places where they can protest and be visible. However, the deadline day marks the critical stage in the dispute.

The union recommended that workers should sign the new contracts, to protect themselves from dismissal, but continue the action. However, this had potential risks in leaving some workers isolated, if not properly explained and members sufficiently prepared.

The GMB has said that action will continue, through strikes and action short of strikes. But it is essential that it calls a national meeting of the British Gas reps and then one for the members, where there can be an open discussion about how the fight continues. This is needed to keep members together.

On 14 April, the union called protests of striking workers outside British Gas offices. This could be developed, particularly as Covid restrictions lift. They could call another national strike, with regional protests, including outside parliament. This could be used as a platform to escalate the action.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.

We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to click here to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


Arguments for socialism keywords:

Banking crisis (15)

Banks (291)

Clause 4 (1)

Clause four (6)

Consciousness (11)

Democracy (190)

Minimum wage (312)

Nationalisation (206)

New workers parrty (6)

Northern Rock (34)

Party funding (1)

Photographs (4)

Planning (86)

Podcasts (5)

Socialism 2007 (17)

Socialism 2008 (13)

Solidarity Scotland (1)

Solidarity (388)

The Socialist (1183)

Them & Us (25)

Trade union organisation (7)

Vaccine (14)

What we saw (38)

Workers (1909)

Workers press (1)

Working class (852)

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Article dated 21 April 2021

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party


Pay in Fighting Fund

Pay in paper and book sales


Bulk book orders

New member submission


triangle15 Jun Bristol North Socialist Party: Education under capitalism

triangle15 Jun Caerphilly & RCT Socialist Party: The socialist approach to the environment

triangle15 Jun Brighton Socialist Party: Disability, neurodivergency, and the left


The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party


What we think


Workplace news

Lessons from history

Campaigns news


Readers' opinion

Subscribespacer|spacerebook / Kindlespacer|spacerPDF versionspacer|spacerText / Printspacer|spacer1137 onlinespacer|spacerBack issuesspacer|spacer Audio files

RMT picket at Nottingham station - East Midlands Railway dispute - Sunday 13th June, photo by G Freeman

RMT picket at Nottingham station - East Midlands Railway dispute - Sunday 13th June. Photo G Freeman

What We Stand For
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Platform setting: =

Desktop version