The Socialist 3 October 2012
Let's get a million on the streets, then a 24-hour general strike
South West NHS workers want action against 'pay cartel'
A series of big and angry meetings of health workers across the South West has shown the scale of anger against plans to break up national bargaining and slash their terms and conditions.
Twenty of the NHS trusts in the region have signed up to a 'consortium' planning to force through regional pay.
Health unions are referring to this as the 'South West pay cartel' and have organised meetings across the region including of over 100 people in Exeter and 300 in Bristol.
The cartel's plans have been drawn up in secret and behind the backs of trade unions. Staff and patients only found out from a leaked document that the trusts had paid £10,000 of taxpayers' money each to sign up. The details of the attacks themselves are eye-watering.
The proposals contain attacks on pay, both basic and shift allowances. If implemented they will force staff to go to work when unwell under plans not to pay the first three days of sickness.
Other attacks mentioned include lengthening the working week and reducing annual leave. Added together they represent a cut of 15% in workers' terms and conditions!
No wonder staff are angry about this. It's not just the attacks themselves but the secrecy, hypocrisy and contempt for workers and their unions that the management have revealed.
Senior management are excluded from the proposals. One consortium idea is to make paying increments performance-related while managers in Gloucestershire have just had the performance-related part of their contract bought out.
The document makes it clear the extent they are willing to go to break the unions and enforce the new contracts.
A nuclear option is outlined - sacking all 64,000 workers affected and forcing them to re-sign contracts on the worse conditions.
Staff recognise how serious this is, if national union bargaining is broken now it will open the door to even worse attacks in the future. Bosses from other regions are also watching carefully.
At the meetings trade union members in the NHS have been joined by some members of the public who understand that this is an attack on the service as well as the staff.
Cheaper staff and a weaker union spell bigger profits for the private companies eyeing up our NHS.
Unions have so far organised a petition and a series of lobbies. At the meetings any suggestions for stepping up this campaign of action have gone down well.
Many reps have reported that their members are even more motivated to fight this than the pensions dispute last year.
There were also warnings that this time the union leaderships must match members' determination. A regional demonstration and a well-built for consultative ballot for industrial action would raise confidence and prepare the unions for immediate action if the trusts move to implement these plans.
The biggest rounds of applause have gone to those speakers who have put the pay cartel in the context of the government's whole austerity agenda.
The pay cartel should be a warning to all workers. Ultimately these attacks on public and private sector workers can only be defeated by the combined resistance of the whole trade union movement - that fightback should start with a 24-hour general strike.
Tom is a prospective Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate for the November Bristol mayoral election
National Shop Steward Movement
For more information on how to build for the demo, and campaign for a 24-hour general strike see www.shopstewards.net or email the National Shop Stewards Network: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Education news & analysis
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