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From The Socialist newspaper, 23 August 2017

Defiant Barts NHS workers fight to stop Serco sabotage

Barts NHS ancillary workers joined BA cabin crew and Bank of England workers in joint demonstrations, 3.8.17, photo Sarah Wrack

Barts NHS ancillary workers joined BA cabin crew and Bank of England workers in joint demonstrations, 3.8.17, photo Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

Rob Williams, Socialist Party industrial organiser

The latest Barts hospital workers' strike on 18 August was a defiant message to employer Serco that its underhand and dishonest tactics wouldn't succeed in defeating the low-paid workers who were on their 24th day of action.

At the talks with general union Unite on 11 August, Serco said it would be tabling an improved offer for workers and their union to consider. But absolutely nothing has been forthcoming.

This was a blatant attempt to confuse and demoralise workers on top of their illegal strike-breaking use of agency workers. But these parasitic privateers can be defeated.

It's now clear that Serco wants to break the strike at all costs. Disgracefully, Barts NHS Trust is standing aside from low-paid workers who keep the hospitals clinically clean and feed and transport patients.

The union had no alternative but to go ahead with the planned strike action to send a clear message to Serco and Barts that they will not get away with their cynical ploy. Late on 17 August, Serco wrote asking Unite to call off the further five days of action with the promise of talks. Correctly, this was refused with nothing concrete on the table.

However, at picket line meetings addressed by Unite branch secretary and Socialist Party member Len Hockey and Unite London and Eastern regional secretary Pete Kavanagh, members voted to suspend this latest action to allow for negotiations.

But notice of further strikes to start on 4 September has been issued in case Serco once again goes back on its commitments. As we go to print, Unite is still waiting for a date for these talks.

Shaken

The company has been shaken by the tremendous action already taken. We've seen loud and well attended picket lines that have been supported by patients and fellow trade unionists.

Financial donations have come in from across the country, many from workers who are fighting against the pay cap when prices continue to rise and squeeze incomes. This solidarity needs to be stepped up. But also the action within the hospitals needs to continue to be strengthened.

At the picket line meetings, strikers were enthused by an update on the numbers on strike and the impact they are having. They were also bolstered by reports of workers winning famous victories against employers just as determined as Serco.

The successful Birmingham bin workers, also organised by Unite, and the victorious Glasgow janitors in public service union Unison, show it is possible for workers to fight and win.

We've already seen the fantastic 15 July demonstration that saw up to 1,000 workers and supporters march to Mile End Hospital from the Royal London Hospital. On 3 August, hundreds of strikers from three Unite disputes - Barts, British Airways (see left) and the Bank of England - came together on a day of protest.

Perhaps its now time to demonstrate outside Serco's HQ at 80 Victoria Street in Westminster? Such a protest could get huge support from the wider union movement.

The whole labour and trade union movement needs to put pressure on Barts Trust to intervene, starting with the other unions in the trust. We need to continue to call on local Labour councillors to exercise their statutory right to intervene on health scrutiny committees with the trust management.

Similarly, national and local Labour MPs must take the trust to task on how these workers can be treated like this.

The behaviour of Serco shows once and for all that these private contractors should be kicked out of the NHS - and all other public services - and the workers brought back in-house and directly employed by the NHS.

Serco wants to give workers the impression that they can't win - but strong, united action can defeat the bosses.

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