The GMB union has declared the British Gas dispute, which involved up to 7,000 workers, over after negotiations led to some small improvements in terms and conditions.
But the result isn’t any sort of victory for the up to 500 workers who lost their jobs as a result on the bosses’ fire and rehire in April. It isn’t a win for the rest of British Gas workers, who were pressured to agree to attacks on their working conditions.
The dispute began after bosses at parent company Centrica revealed plans last year to fire and rehire the workforce if it didn’t sign up to worse contracts. Workers mounted an impressive challenge to the bosses, taking a bold 44 days of strikes.
But at many points during the strike, the GMB national leadership failed to give a lead.
This failure led to up to 500 workers being forced out of the company in April. Chris is one of those workers who left the company earlier this year. He told Socialist Worker, “I can’t really be any clearer about how much disdain I have for British Gas, and how they have treated their staff.”
“The GMB have been very poor as well. And of course this has all been made possible by our current government.”
One worker, who decided to leave the company after April, wrote on Twitter that the end of the dispute was “hardly a victory”. “The damage is done. Morale at British Gas is at an all time low” he wrote.
“Nobody wants to be there and the one institution —the GMB—that engineers thought they could rely on has rolled over with management.
“Why is it I pay my union fees again?”
Paul, another British Gas engineer, wrote, “I find this statement disgraceful. Claiming this is some kind of victory is an insult to our members who were out in all weather's on the picket line and to those sacked in April.
“This wasn't a victory—it was a crushing defeat.”
Another GMB member, Keith, wrote, “I think on this occasion, GMB would be better saying nothing, rather than claim they ‘successfully' negotiated an end to a dispute.
“It effectively ended months ago, in defeat, despite the best efforts and courage of striking members and their families.
Negotiations described as “gruelling” by the GMB led to improvements into unsocial hours pay, better overtimes rates and limits to how many unsocial hours can be worked. The pension scheme will also not change for new starters at British Gas.
Workers, under intense pressure, accepted the new terms and conditions by 75.5 percent to 24.5 percent.
For many, these new negotiated terms were a tiny concession made to the workforce by the bosses.
British Gas bosses have managed to push through fire and rehire while only having to make a few small concessions after negotiations.
But it didn’t have be this way.
Workers were willing to keep fighting and consistently voted to keep on striking. And if the GMB had called an all-out strike—and appealed for support from across the labour movement—workers could have won.