GMB must press ahead with strike ballot
British Gas employees are on the verge of striking, following the company’s threat to fire and rehire their 20,000 strong workforce unless they agree to detrimental changes in their pay and terms and conditions.
Centrica, the conglomerate which owns British Gas along with several European and north American energy distributers, issued advance notification of redundancies back in July, and workers could be fired en masse as early as November.
This is a callous attempt by Centrica to bully their workers into accepting worse pay and terms and conditions, and it is not the first time Centrica has attacked its workforce. Back in 2018, they made 4,000 workers redundant, and again in July of this year 5,000 workers were made redundant.
In response to the “fire and rehire” threat, GMB union held a consultative ballot of 10,000 employees in which 95% voted for industrial action on a turnout of 67.5%, paving the way for a formal strike ballot in Autumn.
GMB’s national secretary Justin Bowden, commenting on the ballot, stated “Today’s 19 to 1 vote demonstrates GMB members are not prepared to tolerate fire and rehire threats […] Centrica’s problems were not caused by the loyal engineers, call centre workers and back office staff who have done everything asked of them over years of boardroom mismanagement, but yet again it’s their jobs that are in the firing line”.
As the bosses are determined to impose these detrimental contractual changes, industrial action is the only recourse left to the workers to protect their pay and conditions. The leaders of GMB use militant language; however, when Asda workers faced the same situation last year, GMB failed to follow through on its threat of industrial action. It is likely that this consultation ballot is merely a tactic to frighten the bosses to come to the table with a better deal which they can in turn sell to their workers.
As Mr Bowman stated, Centrica’s problems were not caused by their workers. Why then should they accept any reduction in their rights? We say; no redundancies, no loss of pay, no decline in working conditions! These demands can only be achieved by concerted strike action.
In order to be successful in such an action, the workers need to organise themselves, forming strike committees to secure a “yes” vote and to control the strike itself. Such grassroots organs will be necessary to hold the union leadership to account and ensure that the decisions about how to strike and when to negotiate are taken by those whose jobs are on the line.