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Sussex County hospital cleaning and catering: The brutal reality of privatisation
Jack Poole, Brighton and Hove Socialist Party
Before the last election, David Cameron promised that he and the Tories would "protect the NHS". If it wasn't clear that this was a blatant lie two years ago, then the reality of what is happening to hospitals across the country has made it clear enough for all to see, with creeping privatisation, job cuts and pension cuts.
Cleaners and catering staff at the Royal Sussex County hospital in Brighton are feeling first hand the effects of Cameron's broken promise. Farmed out to private contractor Sodexo in December 2012, the company gave its new workforce an early Christmas present by announcing 96 redundancies less than two weeks into the contract!
On top of this, some of the workers who had their contracts transferred to Sodexo haven't received a full pay check since the move. Disgracefully, some of them have gone without pay completely over Christmas.
This is the brutal reality of NHS privatisation, and of the mantra of the Con-Dems and big business - putting profit before the interests of patients and workers.
The GMB union that organises amongst the workforce has taken action over this, bringing Sodexo into dispute and balloting the affected workers for strike action over the redundancies.
In the past week there has also been two solidarity demonstrations called by the GMB and local NHS campaigns.
One, a morning picket of the hospital, saw around 25 trade unionists, health workers and anti-cuts campaigners gather outside the hospital, while a lunchtime demo later in the week saw over 50 people gather with banners outside the hospital.
Labour Party supporters attended both these events, including former city councillor Simon Burgess. While all support for the campaign is welcome, it should be made clear that the last Labour government ramped up the scale of privatisation within the health service, paving the way for companies like Sodexo to take up contracts.
Not surprisingly Burgess, when interviewed, condemned Sodexo's treatment of the workforce but made no mention of taking the workers back in-house.
This should be the demand of any campaign aiming to defend local NHS services. Job cuts and unpaid wages are the direct result of NHS privatisation by this, and the last government.
It is clear that health workers need their own political voice that stands for their interests, and against all cuts and privatisation. Any campaign opposed to NHS privatisation needs to recognise this otherwise we will be fighting an endless battle against whatever party is in power.
At the second demo it was announced that Sodexo had agreed to meet with the GMB and would work towards paying back any unpaid wages.
However the redundancies are still going ahead and the results of the strike ballot should be known soon.
The actions of Sodexo show the true face of the government's NHS plans. What is needed is a united campaign of NHS workers, focused on the strength of the unions, but drawing in the mass support of the wider anti-cuts movement to fight on the slogans of: Kick out private contractors, reverse all cuts and renationalise all sectors of the NHS.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 10 January 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.