Paula Mitchell, London Socialist Party
As we go to press talks are taking place in the boldly fought Barts NHS strike against greedy private company employer Serco.
Twenty-four days of strike action have brought a new confidence and new levels of organisation to the workforce of cleaners, catering staff and porters across four hospitals in this massive east London NHS trust. One cleaner explained to Socialist Party members: “I see cleaners stand up for themselves at work now. They’re more confident.” We see cleaners who are now confident to publicly explain how essential their work is – they, like all health workers, are the basis on which the entire NHS rests.
Support has come from far and wide in the form of donations, messages and visits to the picket lines. Importantly, from other NHS staff within the trust, but also from other trade unionists and socialists across London, and even internationally.
But most important has been the fighting spirit of the strikers themselves, who have not only chanted, sang and danced on the liveliest of picket lines, but have held meetings and thousands of one-to-one conversations to democratically maintain the resolve of the workforce.
One striker, Amelia, summed up their simple message, which she asked Socialist Party members to publicise:
“The main reason for our strike is our low pay, and loads of extra work created. Serco only think about profits. Of course the patients are our priority. I feel bad not being at my post. But we need people to understand, all we ask for is 3%, 30p.”
This is from a company that makes £82 million profit from the NHS. A striker, who wishes for her name not to be used, adds: “We don’t want a private company. We want to go back to the NHS.”
Pressure must continue on Serco and on the trust management, who continue to stand aside. How can a multi-million pound company with millionaire executives not pay an extra 30p an hour to its essential workers – and how can an NHS trust turn a blind eye to this outrage? They should tell Serco to pay up or they won’t have the contract! If Serco still digs in, the ideas to protest at the company HQ and at trust events must go ahead.
The trade union leaders should seek to link up the strikes and generalise the demand for fair pay. This would give essential back up to all the disparate disputes that have occurred this summer, from the Barts workers to the Bank of England. Everywhere workers are crying out for a pay rise and for the TUC to take a lead in making it happen.