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'Jubilant' hospital workers strike against poverty pay in east London
Socialist Party reporters
On 4-5 July domestics, porters and security staff at Barts Health Trust in east London, members of Unite the Union, began a campaign of strike action to defend jobs and to break out of poverty pay. If not resolved satisfactorily then another 14 days of action are planned.
This strike is very important coming as it does, with the Tories on the rocks and under pressure over public sector pay. This strike could help to break the pay cap and give confidence to health workers everywhere to fight for better pay and to defend the service against cuts and privatisation.
Since December 2016 services such as catering, cleaning, security and portering have been run by private contractor Serco.
The workers explain: "This is a deal that will cost taxpayers £600 million and lead to Serco making large profits from our hard work. Since Serco have taken over they have planned job cuts at Whipps Cross Hospital, attempted to abolish tea breaks for hard-pressed workers at the Royal London Hospital, increased the workload to unsustainable levels and continued zero-hours contracts despite a commitment not to. Serco profits from our NHS. Their CEO alone earns almost £2 million a year. A cleaner would have to work for almost 100 years to receive this sum." The strikers are fighting for a 30p pay rise.
On the first day of the strike, at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, already at 6am a crowd was gathering, women and men, mostly black and Asian workers, blowing horns and brimming with confidence. One striker said: "I only joined the union a month ago. This is a really big step for me. I've worked here 14 years and for the first time I don't feel like I'm in my place. I'm exhausted. The work has got so hard. When I get home I don't want to cook, I just want to put my head down. Now we have a union that will fight."
1,100 workers have joined Unite in the last few months as part of a hard-fought campaign to unionise and then fight for better pay and conditions. The record of the porters and domestics at Whipps Cross Hospital, explained in many meetings, has encouraged workers to see that a fighting trade union is possible.
Another striker who wants to remain anonymous says: "Serco is much worse than previous employer Carillion. Serco don't even supply cleaning materials and only two uniforms. They don't want to pay our pension either. Carillion was better but best of all it should be taken back in house."
Workers are saying pressure needs to be applied to the health trust and the question needs to be asked - 'are they saving money on this contract?'
After the picket lines strikers marched from Mile End and Barts hospitals to the Royal London for a jubilant rally. We marched, danced and chanted around the hospital and then a Unite organiser compered a brilliant rally. He started off saying "this is best picket line I've ever been on". In introducing Unite branch secretary and Socialist Party member Len Hockey, the compere said: "you've heard about BC and AD - well in Barts Trust, as far as Unite is concerned, there's BL and AL."[Before Len/After Len]
Len declared: "I am honoured to be a striking porter in this Unite branch. This union blew the whistle on exploitative conditions. We said it will end. We will organise.
Hundreds have joined, zero-hour contract workers finally have a voice. We want a famous victory for east London workers."
Royal London rep Melissa said: "Together we fight. For a pay rise. Against stressful workloads. Fighting together we will win. We are forced to do two to three jobs, which is not good for our health." Pete Cavanagh and Gail Cartmail, Unite regional secretary and national deputy general secretary both also spoke, as did Paul Kershaw, chair of Unite housing branch.
After the speeches we marched round to the Serco offices and danced in the street outside!
At the Whipps Cross Hospital rally there has never been so much singing and dancing at a hospital either! Speakers included Linda Taaffe, secretary of Waltham Forest trades council, a nurse from the hospital, and Socialist Party member Nancy Taaffe.
And Len Hockey addressed the strikers here too: "We say to Serco what we think we're worth and we will fight for that". He reported solidarity messages from as far afield as Malaysia and Australia!
To support the strikers contact firstname.lastname@example.org
If there is no resolution, the strike will start again on Tuesday 11 July for seven days.
There will be a demonstration from the Royal London in Whitechapel to Barts on Saturday 15 July.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 4 July 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.