Demonstration against NHS cuts at Whipps Cross hospital, East London 21 September 2013, photo Paul Mattsson

Demonstration against NHS cuts at Whipps Cross hospital, East London 21 September 2013, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Socialist Party members at Whipps Cross hospital

Workers at Whipps Cross hospital and campaigners in east London are celebrating the victory of Unison health activist Charlotte Monro at an employment tribunal hearing last week. This will see her reinstated in her job following her sacking for trade union activity in October 2013.

This decision vindicates the campaigning that has taken place, reflected in the regional and national profile the case has attracted.

The offer by Barts health trust to reinstate Charlotte came following a damning report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) into care standards at the hospital and the culture of bullying towards staff. Four senior trust managers resigned, including the chief executive and chairman.

In the summer and autumn of 2013, hundreds of workers at Whipps Cross waged an energetic battle against pay down bandings and job cuts across the trust, in large part linked to the colossal costs associated with Barts Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme. Socialist Party member and then Unison branch secretary Len Hockey played a crucial leading role in this struggle.

The union branch’s campaign drew in the wider trade unions and community behind its leadership and achieved a 99% indicative ‘yes’ vote for strike action from members. Mass workers’ meetings, public meetings and demonstrations took place. But in an attempt to intimidate workers from resisting these attacks Charlotte, the then Unison branch chair, was suspended on trumped up charges from the staff partnership forum, where Barts’ plans were being discussed. She was subsequently sacked for trade union activities.

Strike blocked

Workers’ determined attempts at defending pay and conditions, however, were systematically blocked and frustrated by the regional bureaucracy of Unison including denying members a strike ballot. This was despite the attack that was simultaneously taking place on union organisation with Charlotte’s suspension and sacking.

Activists at the hospital are no strangers to victimisation. Len Hockey – now branch secretary for Unite the Union at Barts – has himself faced disciplinary action and threat of dismissal on more than one occasion. This most recently occurred in February 2012 when Len’s then employer, Initial Facilities, launched investigation procedures linked to his union activities. Following mass meetings of his members, gate demonstrations, petitioning and email lobbying of both Len’s employer and trust, together with a vote for a strike ballot should the disciplinary action be carried out, the employer backed off.

Charlotte’s victory should now to be built upon by health unions at Whipps and across Barts health trust. The confidence it can bring in rebuilding workers’ combatively will be essential in defeating the next round of cuts and particularly any threat to downsize and relegate the status of Whipps Cross from a general hospital to a hollowed out limited facility.