MANCHESTER, England — Workers at British Gas, members of the GMB union, went on strike Feb. 19-22 protesting the company’s attempts to impose increased hours while cutting pay. The union said the company refused to drop its threat to “fire and rehire.” This means if you refuse to agree to the new contract terms, you’re fired and then offered your old job back on the bosses’ terms.
Since Jan. 7 the 7,000 workers, who install and maintain gas ovens, radiators, meters and other equipment, have gone on strike in blocks of up to four days.
“The attack by British Gas is part of a broader assault by bosses against workers’ jobs, pay and conditions,” Peter Clifford, a rail worker and Communist League candidate for mayor of Greater Manchester, said at a Feb. 19 meeting here to launch the CL campaign. On several occasions, Clifford has joined the GMB picket line in Stockport, which is kept up by gas workers from all across North West England.
The Communist League is running a national slate of candidates in both Manchester and London.
“In recent weeks we’ve seen two small but important victories in working-class battles,” Clifford said. “Workers at Rolls-Royce in Barnoldswick were able to save 350 jobs through their nine-week strike. And workers at DHL in Liverpool carried out effective picketing and won a pay rise.”
On Feb. 20 meat worker Hugo Wils, Clifford’s running mate as CL candidate for Manchester Council, was joined by Andrés Mendoza, who is the party’s candidate for mayor of London, campaigning outside the Queens Road Go North West bus depot here. Some 400 drivers represented by the Unite union voted for an open-ended strike starting Feb. 28 against job cuts, increased hours with no pay increase and other attacks on conditions. The bosses there are also using the “fire and rehire” stick to impose the concession contract.
The Communist League candidates are building support for the gas workers and bus drivers.
“I heard about the drivers,” Temmy Edwards told this Militant worker-correspondent and campaign supporter Anne Howie Feb. 21 when we knocked on his door in the Gorton area and raised the two labor battles. “You’re right, it’s what a lot of people are facing.”
Edwards, who works both as a drummer and coffee server, said the coffee chain where he’s employed often puts him on “flexible furlough.” This means his hours are cut and he receives only 60% of the lost wage paid from the government.
The CL’s platform calls for a shorter workweek with no cut in pay in response to job and wage cuts, as well as a government-funded public works program to provide jobs at union-scale pay replacing decaying infrastructure.
The estate where Edwards lives is a case in point. Several houses are being torn down after a massive sinkhole opened up in the street following heavy rain in January.
“I never considered myself political, but when it catches up with you, you can’t hide from politics,” Edwards said as he subscribed to the Militant and took a copy of the CL’s election platform.
At the end of a successful day of campaigning in the Moston area, campaigners spoke with Vartan Lloyd Morris, an agency nurse who first met the CL at a protest following the killing of George Floyd. “I’m not surprised the bus drivers voted to strike,” she told Mendoza. “It’s no secret that they’ve been unhappy about the way they’ve been treated for a long time.”
Lloyd Morris endorsed the Communist League campaign. “This is the right time for a working-class campaign,” she said. “People’s minds are open because of what’s happening all around them.”
Seven people subscribed to the Militant and five endorsed the election campaign over the Feb. 20-21 weekend here.
The CL campaign is reaching out across the country, including to working people in small towns, to farmers and other small proprietors.
Solidarity with fishermen
On Feb. 12 rail worker Pamela Holmes, CL candidate for London Assembly, traveled to England’s south coast to meet with fishermen, who are being hit hard by a drop in the wholesale price of fish.
“Price is always an issue but the pandemic has contributed,” said fisherman Mark Dewey. “There used to be a market in local restaurants but that’s dried up with the lockdown. Most of us are selling directly to the public now.” Dewey said he is finally at the end of a costly yearlong process, mired in red tape, to register and equip his five-meter (16.4 foot) quarter boat to be able to fish from Worthing beach to catch sole and rock salmon. Like Dewey, who also works as a self-employed brick layer, almost all the fishermen are forced to have more than one job to get by.
“As I campaign I will get the word out to working people about the conditions you face,” Holmes told him. “The Communist League campaigns for the government to guarantee farmers and fishermen prices that cover their costs and livelihoods.”