Around 7,000 striking British Gas workers have headed back to picket lines after negotiations with the company broke down.
Friday saw their 19th day of strikes this year. The action will continue until the end of Monday.
GMB union members are battling the decision by parent company Centrica to fire thousands of workers and then rehire them on much worse contracts.
It’s a crucial battle not only for their own pay and jobs but against the whole rotten practice of fire and rehire.
Union leaders called off recent strikes in order to hold talks with the bosses. But during the negotiations Centrica chief executive Chris O’Shea refused to withdraw the threat of fire and rehire.
Many strikers think it was wrong to call off the strikes.
Martin has worked for British Gas for 31 years. He told Socialist Worker that he feels the company “clawed a little bit back from us” when strike days were suspended.
“After not striking last weekend I feel like the ball is more in their court,” Martin added.
Workers were not able to find out what had gone on in negotiations due to the involvement of government conciliation service Acas.
This meant they spent a week not knowing if they would be heading back to the picket lines while negotiations went on.
Martin said that the week has been filled with “uncertainty” and by Tuesday it was easy to be filled with “doom and gloom”.
Many were also worried that a deal made in talks would fall short of their central demand which is to scrap fire and rehire contracts.
But despite the announcement on Friday that talks had collapsed and fire and rehire was still on the table, workers remained resolute and ready for more strikes.
Chris on Twitter said, “I’ve lost track of what day we are on, and my pay packet has taken a serious hit. But we will fight on.”
Martin said, “It’s still possible to remove the gun to the head of fire and rehire.
“The support from the public has brought the issue to everyone’s attention. If we win it’ll be the green light to everyone that you can fight this practice.”
And British Gas workers can win. Strikes are hitting British Gas hard. According to the GMB 210,000 households are in a backlog awaiting repairs and 250,000 planned annual services have been abandoned.
Further strikes are planned for 26 February to 1 March.
Only more pressure on the company will win this fight and the workers who opposed suspending strike action last week were right to do so.
Negotiations turned out to be pointless and really only resulted in the dispute losing four days of strikes during the coldest weekend of the year.
On 31 March the company says it will sack workers who haven’t signed the new contracts. It is vitally important that the union escalates the strikes to protect these jobs.
An all-out strike could win British Gas strikers their demands and stop future attacks on their pay and conditions.
Every trade unionist must continue to support this fight.
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