Reports and Campaigns
Reports and campaigns:
24 November 2014
NHS workers’ second week of action
Nurses, cleaners, porters, midwives, occupational therapists, paramedics, scientists, radiographers, admin, catering, security staff and other NHS staff in England have taken a second four hours of strike action today, Monday 24 November, from 7am until 11am.
This will be followed by six days of 'work to rule'.
Altogether, 11 health service trade unions are taking part in today's action - united against the government's attack on pay, which means that a majority of staff won't even receive a miniscule 1% pay rise.
Tyne & Wear
On a bitingly cold morning, ambulance drivers, nurses, anaesthetists, midwives, workers from the estates department, all stood shoulder to shoulder on the picket lines at Gateshead's Queen Elizabeth hospital.
One nurse on the picket line said that there was emergency cover being given on the ward she worked on. However, she went on to say that in reality this meant the same cover as any other day as the service was constantly run on a bare minimum.
There was seething anger towards Cameron and the Con-Dem government, but striker after striker also expressed anger that the Labour Party 'is no longer for working class people'.
Unite members explained that the QE hospital is privatising their estates department. From 1st December, 52 workers will be employed by a new company, QE Facilities Ltd.
The current workers are being TUPEd over, which means there is an agreement that their pay and pensions will stay the same. However, there are fears that this agreement may not be worth the paper it is written on.
Any new workers employed by the privatised service will be on worsened terms and conditions.
Strikers agreed that four-hour strikes are a starting point, but much more would have to be done. The idea of coordinated action between different parts of the public sector, and the need for a 24-hour general strike, resonated with the strikers.
King George hospital
Cars were constantly beeping support for the flag-waving pickets from the GMB, Unite and Unison outside King George hospital as workers struck for four hours.
“There are more people supporting us than not” a Unison spokesperson told the Socialist.
Mark Holland, London regional organiser for the GMB added: “This is a campaign for the 1% pay rise. Only recently the government was saying that the economy is recovering and people are getting above inflation pay rises. Quite clearly this is not the case for NHS staff, who are struggling just to get a 1% pay rise.”
“It’s been four years since our last pay rise” the Unison spokesperson said, “so our pay has been eroded”.
“1% will make no difference to people’s pay in any case”, Mark added, “it’s not a pay rise – just a flat payment. The NHS staff look after us. When is our government going to look after the NHS staff?”
Whipps Cross hospital
60 NHS workers joined the picket lines at Whipps Cross hospital. Christine, rep for the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), summed up the strike when she said: "We have to take a stand. We need to stand with other health workers, and stand up".
The strongest show of workers out on strike at Whipps were the paramedics in the GMB union, whose strike was 100% solid!
The Society of Radiographers (SOR) also coordinated their action this time. At Whipps, 12 of the 35 radiographers who were due to work on the strike day joined the picket line. Radiographer Ben Roberson said: "We're striking once again, for a pay increase that we're widely overdue, and we will continue to strike until we get it."
Poplar ambulance station
The strike was solid among Poplar ambulance crew. Even trainees on their placement came to the picket line to support their partners - paramedics responsible for training them.
Pickets were expecting to have to strike again, but were determined to continue until they win. Many commented that for them the strike is not just about pay, it's fighting to defend the NHS.
Pickets spoke about how many private ambulances are in use in London. Not just in private health care either - the NHS relies on them because the ambulance service is so short staffed!
It's not just vehicles either. The ambulance service relies on overtime to function, and the overtime ban after the last strike hit the service hard.
TUSC got a very good reception, with many pickets adding their names to the TUSC letter [www.tusc.org.uk/txt/308.doc] to our two local MPs. Even Maurice the mascot got behind the TUSC banner to have his photo taken.
Pickets were out across Southampton, supporting the fight against the austerity pay freeze at the Royal South Hants, Southampton General and Princess Anne hospitals, with militant midwives in the biggest numbers.
Much disgust was expressed at the MPs' 11% rise and there were calls for the unions to organise more effective action and give a convincing lead, showing that they mean business.
Horror stories a plenty were told on how the NHS is riddled with the privatisation profit-virus. For example, workers reported that 50 mental health patients had been farmed out of the area to the private sector while empty wards in the city were closed due to staffing shortages.
Everyone can see where the money is going but no one can see any Westminster politicians fighting to reverse the trend.
TUSC leaflets [Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition] were welcomed by those who are frustrated that the unions continue to give money to Labour, which promises continued austerity.
The four-hour strike by 11 NHS unions on Monday 24th November follows separate four-hour strikes by Unison, Unite, GMB and the Royal College of Midwives on one day and the Society of Radiographers the following Monday.
Socialist Party members visited picket lines at the Leeds General Infirmary and St James hospital where we met a warm response.
There were well over 100 picketers between the two hospital sites as well as various picket lines at the community service level.
Anger exists not just over the pay freeze, but also the ongoing cutbacks to health services. At the LGI we were told of how staff hadn't been replaced in various sectors, meaning that the estates engineering section doesn't even have people trained in basic trades such as welding and has to rely on contractors, adding to the further backdoor privatisation of the NHS.
John Rattigan, an operating department practitioner and Unite rep at the LGI (speaking in a personal capacity) gave us his views on the strike:
"We're on strike because we've not had a pay rise for many years, and the government have withdrawn the 1% pay rise recommended by the pay review board. Yet MPs have given themselves a 11% pay rise, where they say they have to abide by their pay review board decision.
"They say that people will get their incremental pay rise, but for people at the top of their band, such as myself, then we get a 1% pay rise that's unconsolidated, which is a one-off, so it's not a real pay rise.
"But we're also here for low paid members of staff. I want to point out the situation of the kitchen staff, as they were TUPE'd across to a private contractor. Although they were at the time given guarantees about their conditions, I was speaking to someone recently and she's now on the minimum wage, just £6.50 an hour.
"We're not asking for vast amounts of money, or a life of opulence - we just want to be able to live our lives.
"People talk about campaigning for a living wage - but even £7.65 an hour is just enough to get by on, that's why the Socialist Party is fighting for £10 and that seems reasonable to me.
"It's difficult discussing escalating action because as health workers we do this job to care for people in need. I think there is room to escalate action quite a bit, I don't apologise for disrupting elective care, as I hope patients will understand the plight of particularly our low paid members.
"But also, the main political parties have been and are planning on attacking our national health service. We need an alternative that will stand up to those big companies avoiding tax and invest that wealth in providing a decent health service for everyone, that's why I stood for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the May elections this year."
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
A Unison health service activist spoke to a Salford Socialist Party member at 7.30am:
"It's going good, there's a good turnout. I've not seen anyone cross the picket line yet so that's good! Last time's action has helped build the confidence up of workers, they've seen that the wards have coped well without us on there so I think more of them have felt that they are OK to leave the wards and come out on strike.
"There's a lot of angry feeling out there that their pay isn't going as far as it used to, that the services are being cut more and more, that they're having to work more and more time over their contracted hours and aren't getting paid any overtime for it. So I do think there's a lot of strong feeling in favour of this strike action.
"I would like to see that Unison have a timetable of strike action between now and May. Jeremy Hunt's made it quite clear at the minute he's not willing to negotiate with the unions, I think we need to build on the action, escalate it, and carry it forward to at least 'til the general election if not the forthcoming year, until our demands are met."
Radiographers, midwives, maintenance staff, nurses and admin staff at Whittington hospital, north London, from a wide variety of unions were on the pickets receiving hundreds of beeps from passing motorists on Highgate Hill today.
Among their many placards was one proclaiming from the x-ray staff: "No raise - no rays". They were receiving massive support through the time they were there.
Approximately 50-60 members of staff were out for the whole of the four hours and marched in unity together at the end of the picket.
Around a dozen health workers were on the picket at Worcestershire Royal Hospital, supplemented by members of Unite, NUT, UCU and Aslef, mobilised by Worcester Trades Council.
The mood was good despite the sprawling nature of the hospital site and the wide variety of shift patterns meaning many workers are not at work at the time of the strike. There was a lot of support from passing motorists.
Pay was one of the topics of discussion but also workload, and facilities and office equipment. Why has no one invented a chair that workers can sit on without hurting their back?
The trade unions on the site are beginning to revive via this dispute as some reps or even members of the same union are meeting for the first time. Support from other trade unionists was welcome.
Pete McNally, Chair, Worcester ASLEF
Striking paramedics arrived at Taunton Ambulance Station on a bitterly cold, frost encrusted Monday morning. The political temperature was running high however, as the 30 striking Unison members confidently and defiantly announced that once again they had achieved a 100% solid turnout at their station.
Clutching hot mugs of tea to help shrug off the cold, some of the strikers spoke to the Socialist:
"Whilst this latest four-hour coordinated NHS strike is a very welcome step forwards, what we really need now, is a 24-hour general strike", said Daniel.
"It's ridiculous that Unison continues to heavily finance the so called 'Labour' Party, when they are openly committed to implementing the Tory's planned programme of cuts and privatisations - if they are elected in 2015", said another striker.
The idea of TUSC standing candidates at the next local and general elections was positively received by pickets who were by now resolutely gathered round the leaping flames of their ad hoc 'brazier' (see photo)- cleverly improvised from the draw of an old disused filing cabinet!
Loud cheers greeted a delegation of FBU members who arrived from the nearby fire station. The off-duty firefighters had brought a box of FBU woolly hats as a practical expression of workers' political solidarity.
The paramedics were clearly emboldened and inspired by this welcome act. One of the strikers thanked the FBU; before he pointed in the direction of the flames leaping from the make-shift filing cabinet fire, and added: "We may well need to come up to the fire station and borrow your FBU brazier before long ... it could be a long and cold winter's struggle ahead of us!"