Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 21 April 2021

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 Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • We must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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 donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


In The Socialist 21 April 2021:

What we think

Build a Socialist alternative

Capitalism discriminates against us - Disabled people fighting for our rights


Football: no trust in billionaire owners - kick them out and reclaim the game


Left candidate, Pedro Castillo - surprise of Peruvian elections

USA: cop killings and the anti-racist movement

Superpowers' tensions continue to ratchet up


Don't trust the Labour right's empty promises

Fight to stop cuts

Keep Liverpool council's One Stop Shops open

Liverpool hustings - only TUSC has a strategy to take on the Tories

Essex: Why I'm standing for TUSC

Carlisle campaign day success

Socialist Party northern region meeting

With public campaigning back in full swing - now is the time to raise fighting fund


Socialist Party members - part of a left challenge for Unison's leadership

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

Retail workers desperately need a fighting and democratic union

CWU BT ballot - time for action now!

Thurrock bin workers solid in strike against pay cuts

Bus workers protest Go-Ahead's 'fire and rehire'

Ballots to defend reps on Woolwich Ferry

PCS leadership ballot underway


Long Covid: Fight for jobs, benefits and services

Climate change - Johnson spouts 'greenwash 2.0'

Covid and precarious workers - union organisation vital

News in brief


Housing activists storm rental firm's offices

Protests continue against proposed anti-protest laws


Home   |   The Socialist 21 April 2021   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:

British Gas:

triangleUnited action needed to defeat fire and rehire

triangleNew British Gas deadline and strike dates

triangleBritish Gas workers strike ahead of 'fire and rehire' deadline

triangleStrike at crucial stage

triangleStrikers reject deal and carry on fighting


triangleCOP26 News in brief

triangleCaerphilly and RCT Socialist Party: Nationalise gas and energy

triangleCapitalist climate hypocrisy

triangleCWI livestream rally report


triangleWeetabix workers defeat 'fire and rehire' and ballot on improved pay offer

triangleClarks strikers defeat 'fire and rehire'

triangleClarks workers fight 'fire-and-rehire' pay cut


triangle10,000 tube workers vote to strike

triangleWorkplace news in brief


triangleSomers Forge workers continue pay strike


triangleNewham college strike solid against bully privatisers

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns



10,000 tube workers vote to strike



Scunthorpe scaffs resume indefinite strike action


South Yorkshire

S Yorks Stagecoach strike results in "huge pay win"



Sheffield Just Eat couriers speak about strike



Coventry bin strike continues



NUS walkout: Organise to fight for free education on 2 March



Oliver Campbell - 31 years fighting for justice



Somers Forge workers continue pay strike



Workplace news in brief



Bus driver Tracey Scholes reinstated at Go North West


Royal Mail

Royal Mail: Unofficial walkouts precede bigger battle to come on pay and workload



Newham college strike solid against bully privatisers



Pauline Wall memorial meeting


Socialist Students

Southampton uni ignores staff and students in exam farce



Demonstrating against the Tory anti-protest bill

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: [email protected]

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 077 7221 5281

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 078 0983 9793



Alphabetical listing

January 2022