Unite rallies against fire and rehire

Around 50 trade union activists gathered for a rally on Woodhouse Moor on Friday 15th October for a protest organised by Unite the Union against fire and rehire and in support of a forthcoming bill being moved in parliament to ban the practice.

Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party

It’s welcome that rather than leave this issue just to be debated in the halls of Westminster, that Unite the Union is organising this and a series of other rallies to mobilise support to end fire and rehire.

The speakers list was dominated by elected representatives. All five Leeds MPs showed up to speak, but of them only Leeds East MP Richard Burgon supported GMB members at British Gas on the picket lines earlier this year who were fighting the same fire and rehire in a months long strike which held one or two rallies each week organised outside the companies offices in Leeds.

Whilst rightly raising the Tories removal of the £20 a week universal credit uplift and increase in National Insurance payments, these same points were made by almost every speaker. No strategy was offered on how the fight against fire and rehire could be taken forward beyond this opposition bill, such as linking up the various disputes involving Unite members against fire and rehire in co-ordinated industrial action.

There were very few positive proposals from banning zero hour contracts – there was no mention of the £15 an hour minimum wage or shorter working week without loss of pay, both of which were recently passed by the TUC.

Gerry Lavery from Leeds Unite Community addressing the rally – photo Iain Dalton

The best speeches were given by the handful of lay members of Unite who spoke. Gerry Lavery, campaigns co-ordinator of Leeds Unite Community explained about the campaigning they’d been engaged in against the universal credit uplift, and explained how all these attacks are designed to force workers to accept low paid work.

Andy Dyer, Unite NEC member and local bus driver correctly demanded to see action to bring public transport back in house as the Labour West Yorkshire Mayor had pledged to ahead of being elected earlier this year.

The rally, which seemed to have been mostly built for via social media, could have attracted a bigger attendance if built for systematically through the local labour movement, and would have been strengthened by having speakers who had been involved in battles against fire and rehire.

For example, a delegation from the GMB union was rightly welcomed at the demonstration, but why hadn’t a British Gas striker been invited to explain the human cost of fire and rehire?

Hopefully, this will not be the last of such efforts by Unite and other trade unions, and future rallies can be more linked to the concrete struggles taking place and the workers involved in them.

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