Marching round the Royal London. Photo: Ian Pattison
Marching round the Royal London. Photo: Ian Pattison

Ian Pattison, London Socialist Party

Unite the Union organiser Onay Kasab had a message for striking NHS workers in east London. “The employer says it can’t pay you because it sets a precedent for other workers. That’s the bloody point!

“We take strike action because strike action works. Not because we’re desperate. But because it works. Because it wins.”

The noise was deafening as 100 striking Barts NHS Trust workers marched around Royal London hospital.

Domestics, porters, catering workers and more, who a year ago won being taken back into the NHS from private employer Serco, are now in their sixth tranche of strike action fighting for, among other demands, the lump-sum Covid bonus payment that was paid to NHS workers last year.

Onay brought a message from the union’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, saying: “You can be absolutely sure that Unite will do absolutely everything to ensure you win this dispute”

He added: “The letter from the employer [saying it can’t pay the lump sum], is rubbish. We’re going to carry on. We’re going to continue, and not stop until we win!”

Strikers speak

Len Hockey, Unite branch secretary at Barts NHS Trust, had a message from a worker who had just joined the strike: “I haven’t been on strike up until now. But the way they’re treating us in there on strike days, I’m joining the strike.”

Len also said: “Of course we’re setting a precedent. We’re raising the sights of other healthcare workers. We’re not going away. This issue is not going away. Our union is blazing a trail.

“For the employer, paying the money – it’s a choice.”

Striking worker Millicent said: “Everyone else got the lump sum. Why not you? We’re going to fight for it.”

Another striker Ellen said: “Don’t give up. You’re all legends. Continue to stand up and fight.”

Socialist Party member Rob Williams brought solidarity support from the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN). “You’re sending a message that you want to be treated like all NHS workers. It’s time the NHS delivered on that promise.

“I’ve just come via train from a protest opposing the closure of Port Talbot steelworks, my hometown. On both ends of that rail line, I see workers, Unite members, that are going to win a victory.”

• On 1 February, Barts workers joined with low-paid security guards at Guys and St Thomas’s who are also fighting to beat back attacks on their terms and conditions 

STOP PRESS: East Kent win – now Barts must pay up!

On Tuesday 6 February, strikers protested at Barts Trust HQ in Canary Wharf. Len Hockey told the rally that the health trust in East Kent has just settled with its workers who were fighting for the same lump sum, and has agreed to pay it.

There is now no reason why Barts workers cannot be paid the lump sum – nor all other health workers round the country who missed out!