The clock is ticking for British Gas workers on strike as the threat of being fired and rehired could become reality on 31 March.
That is the deadline day bosses have given to sign for a new, worse contract or face the sack.
Adding to the pressure, the workers’ GMB union recently told strikers, “If you plan to stay with British Gas after 31 March and intend to ultimately sign a new contract, our lawyers’ advice is to do so by noon on 25 March if you want to avoid the loss of protected terms and changes you have fought for.”
That scared and demoralised a section of strikers. It is urgent that a fighting strategy comes out clearly now.
There is no doubt workers are still ready to strike. They began another four-day strike on Friday.
This will be strike days 35 to 38.
Around 7,000 workers have been taking regular action since January to demand British Gas bosses scrap a plan to fire and rehire workers on worse terms and conditions.
Chris O'Shea—CEO of parent company Centrica who is masterminding the attacks—is already on a salary package worth nearly a million a year. In addition, the GMB says O’Shea stands to scoop a £300,000 windfall.
His shareholding in British Gas―now worth £1.2 million—is expected to increase if he succeeds in cutting the pay per job for British Gas engineers.
Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary, said, "City analysts are forecasting the British Gas share price will rise by 25 percent."
But bosses want workers to accept a pay cut of 15 percent and increased “flexibility”.
A recent GMB survey found that 87 percent of those who took part believed that reduced times to complete individual jobs could make their work less safe.
Despite the pressure, some workers are openly saying they will refuse to sign the new contract.
Striker Matt told Socialist Worker that he won’t give in to “constant bullying and harassment by senior management.”
“I've never felt anything like the feelings you experience while on strike,” he said.
“It really is like a rollercoaster with so many highs and lows. But we need to do this for all working people. It's become bigger than just us. It's for everyone.”
“I won’t be signing on 25 March, quite simply because we can't give in to bullies,” added Matt.
Pete is another striker who won’t be signing on 25 March. He told Socialist Worker that he won’t be “blackmailed” by the company.
“I can’t bring myself to fold at the last minute,” he said.
“I do feel guilty for taking this risk to my family but I just can’t give in to blackmail after all we have sacrificed,” he said.
Kevin, a British Gas electrical engineer and union rep, told Socialist Worker that after the GMB email workers' morale was low.
“Many of us were feeling down after the email from GMB’s legal team. But going back to the picket lines helped us discuss our next moves.”
And Kevin made it clear that workers are still determined to continue.
“We’ve fought tooth and nail for this. If enough people don’t sign British Gas might be concerned,” he said.
Pete pointed out the strength of the workers throughout the dispute, “Our senior leaders have tried to divide us, blackmail us and set stressful deadlines, for months.
“It’s been difficult, but we have stood shoulder to shoulder with one another.
And Matt added, “We all need to stand together now and vote no and see if they will go through with the shameful tactic of fire and rehire.
“Together we are stronger and together we can win.”
The strikes have clearly been driven by workers who have agitated and pushed to keep the action going.
But those at the top in the GMB national leadership have failed to provide leadership at a number of vital points
Their latest news release says, “Those who don’t agree to the new terms will be sacked. Strike days 35 to 38 will be followed by a meeting of GMB’s Central Executive Council, which is the governing body of the union, on Tuesday 23 March to consider the next steps in the dispute.”
Strikers need to tell their executive that instead of surrender they want escalation. There has to be an all-out strike to match bosses’ ruthlessness.
Such a strike should be supported and funded by the whole trade union movement. Bosses everywhere will be watching what happens at British Gas. The resistance to the bosses needs full support from the unions.