Unite members at coffee company Douwe Egberts are the latest workers to organise against fire-and-rehire proposals by callous bosses. A united and militant struggle is needed across the labour movement against this scandalous scourge.

Unite members at coffee company Douwe Egberts are the latest workers to organise against fire-and-rehire proposals by callous bosses. A united and militant struggle is needed across the labour movement against this scandalous scourge.

Management at Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) have attempted to move almost 300 employees at their plant in Banbury, Oxfordshire, onto inferior contracts.

As a result, these JDE workers, organised in Unite the Union, have voted 96% in favour of potential action in a consultative ballot. They will now move forward to a full-scale industrial ballot, with the option to strike.

Rewarded with cuts

JDE produces various coffee products, including Tassimo, Kenco, and L’OR Coffee. The company has managed to capitalise from the closure of cafes and coffee shops over the past year. As domestic coffee drinking increased by 40%, JDE’s profits grew by 9.1%.

And what reward do JDE’s workers get for continuing to work through the pandemic, delivering huge profits for the bosses? A drastic reduction in their incomes!

JDE has claimed that this decision to fire and rehire will mean that the company can become more competitive in the market – in other words, to increase profits for executives and shareholders.

Workers therefore rightly feel that they’ve had the rug pulled from under their feet. The 96% consultative vote reflects the huge anger amongst workers towards management.

Not only are these workers being asked to move onto worse contracts, but the company is also bringing the final salary system to an end, which previously offered workers a pension based on a proportion of their salary at the point of retirement. Instead, the bosses are introducing a contribution-based scheme, which will be subject to the unpredictability of global stock markets.

Callousness and greed

Unite’s national officer for the food and drink industry, Joe Clarke, has explicitly stated that the flames of anger amongst JDE workers have been fanned by the super-profits the company made in 2020.

Joe states that the fire-and-rehire decision by management is motivated solely by ‘excessive corporate greed’ – pointing to the callousness of making such a move in the middle of a global health and economic crisis.

The JDE plant is Banbury’s largest employer. These attacks will therefore have a knock on effect locally, at a time when many are already struggling.

Thrown to the wolves

JDE are by no means the only employer to use ‘fire and rehire’ tactics. Companies such British AirwaysBritish Gas, and Go North West have all deployed these same tactics in order to attack workers’ pay and conditions.

The TUC has found that, since March 2020 when the pandemic hit Britain, 9% of all workers have been asked to reapply for their current jobs on worse terms and conditions. This rises to 18% amongst workers aged 18-24. BAME workers, meanwhile, are twice as likely to have faced these brutal fire-and-rehire tactics.

This reflects the precariousness of young and ethnic minority workers, in particular, under capitalism, who are immediately thrown to the wolves for the sake of profits.

Surveys also reveal that nearly a quarter of workers in Britain have experienced a downgrading of their terms and conditions during the course of this crisis.

Not only is fire and rehire a means of ensuring greater profits for a small minority; it actively undermines attempts by workers to collectively organise and negotiate through trade unions. Instead, new (worse) contracts are presented to individual workers.

But JDE workers are fighting back by voting overwhelmingly to take action. This shows that there is strength in unity and power in organisation.

Unite and fight

Fire and rehire is a full frontal attack by the bosses on our rights and conditions. The struggle against it is one we must all take up, by linking these fights together.

The struggles by workers at British Airways, Go North West, and British Gas are a demonstration of what is on the horizon for all workers in the months and years ahead.

We cannot wait to be picked off. Now is the time to join our unions, organise, and take action.

It is vital that the labour movement organises and fights in every workplace for genuine improvements in workers’ pay and conditions, no matter how small. But we must also understand that our conditions, dignity, health and safety will never be secure in an economy based on profit.

Across the world, capitalism continues to roll back hard-won concessions, such as limits to working hours, pensions, holiday, and maternity & paternity pay. None of these were handed down benevolently by the bosses. Rather, they had to be wrestled from their hands through decades of class struggle.

It is therefore imperative that today’s battles are linked to the need for nationalisation, democtatic workers’ control, and socialist planning. Ultimately this is the only way to protect our livelihoods from the whims of the market, and from the bosses and their insatiable appetite for profit.

These strikes and struggles must be a warning to bosses: If you cannot guarantee our conditions and pay, then we will come for you and your profits.