After a year of almost permanent lockdown in Leicester, it appears it's not just the virus that's out to get workers. Managers at SPS Technologies in the north of the city have opportunistically used the pandemic to restructure the business by cutting wages.
SPS bosses intend to do this by forcing their workers to accept new terms and conditions, which would mean a loss of between £2500-3000 per year in pay. This involves all the workers being sacked and rehired, despite years of working for the business. Some workers on the recent picket line have been at the company for 35 years!
SPS is managed in the UK, but owned by the Berkshire Hathaway corporation – a multinational owned by Warren Buffet, a so-called philanthropist and the world’s fourth richest individual.
Workers at SPS produce critical aerospace parts. The bosses want to rob £600k in total from around 200 workers. Meanwhile, the firm’s owner holds a £73 billion personal fortune. This should come as no surprise: The eye-watering fortunes of capitalists like Buffett has always been built up at the expense of the workers who actually produce this wealth.
Workers have already been subjected to years of pay restraint at SPS. In fact, 60 redundancies were made last year. These are now the subject of an industrial tribunal case, being pursued by Unite the Union because redundancy pay was not paid correctly.
This latest fire-and-rehire tactic has therefore proved to be the final straw. In a ballot earlier this year, SPS workers voted to defend their livelihoods through targeted action, and to call an all-out strike if their demands were ignored.
Today I visited members at SPS Technology in Leicester who are fighting to defeat fire & rehire.— Howard Beckett (@BeckettUnite) March 26, 2021
These brave members worked through lockdown, told their jobs are essential. Over 30 contracted Covid & tragically they lost a 37 year old colleague to Covid.
They deserve better. pic.twitter.com/Z866K3M22Q
Targeted industrial action meant the withdrawal of labour on selected days earlier this month, from 12 March. This involved lively picket lines, consisting of workers and supporters.
The managers remain unmoved, however. Unite members have therefore understandably concluded that they need to up the ante. As a result, the SPS workers are currently on an all-out strike – from yesterday, Monday 29 March, until 3 June.
Struggle for socialism
Such all-out action has been a rare scenario in recent times. But it will become an increasingly prominent feature in the industrial landscape as the bosses seek to maximise their already inflated profits in the midst of a deep capitalist crisis.
It is imperative that this dispute is won – and won quickly. All workers have a vested interest in the victory of the SPS workers. The fire-and-rehire tactics that these workers are facing today will be deployed against other workers in the months and years ahead.
This has already been the case across the economy recently, with similar strikes against the bosses’ fire-and-rehire attacks at British Gas, British Airways, Tower Hamlets council, privatised bus companies, tech firms, and elsewhere.
This battle is therefore part of a wider struggle: for a socialist planned economy, where the drive for profit no longer bears down on workers, and where the organised working class are in control.