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From The Socialist newspaper, 30 June 2021

Royal London Hospital

Strike action shows the way

Workers on the picket line at Royal London Hospital. Photo: London Socialist Party

Workers on the picket line at Royal London Hospital. Photo: London Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge)

James Ivens, East London Socialist Party

Striking workers at the Royal London Hospital are showing the way forward for the NHS unions.

Privatised catering workers in Whitechapel, east London have had enough. There's too few staff and no respect.

Tight, inflexible rotas mean childcare and college courses become impossible to arrange. Workers no longer get a proper weekend, with days off separated. Bosses imposed this new rostering system with no consultation.

And outsourcer Serco, the employer, deals with problems by bullying the staff. Workers can expect to be punished in the already brutal rota, or face aggressive use of sickness absence policies.

These are workers who prepare and distribute food throughout the hospital. It's one of countless crucial jobs for the health service. And like for so much of the working class, it's put them at risk in the pandemic.

It is the working class in all sectors that has carried society through Covid. In workplaces on the front line of the pandemic short staffing, poverty pay, intolerable workload and management bullying are everywhere.

"We're not asking for much" said Unite union rep John, rallying pickets on Friday 25 June. "We're not even asking for pay" - although that could be the next fight, with outsourced workers' wages 15% behind directly employed counterparts. "We want proper rosters, an end to bullying, and Serco out!"

Like the government, Serco has offered all its workers in the Barts health trust, which includes Royal London, St Bart's and Whipps Cross hospitals, a derisory 1% pay offer. Unite is consulting all Serco members on whether they too are prepared to take strike action.

Early morning picket lines have reminded management of the workers' presence, with deafening blasts on vuvuzelas and protest songs on the sound system. The first round of stoppages, Monday 21 to Friday 25 June, was rock solid. More action is planned for Monday 5 to Friday 9 July.

Serco management has tried to intimidate workers by filming picket lines and standing, sneering by their strike rally on Thursday 24 June. Strikers and supporters put them in their place with loud chants of "shame on you!"

The Royal London strike shows once more that when union leaders are willing to lead, workers are willing to fight. NHS union leaders nationally should take a leaf from the catering workers' book.

Protests against Tory ruination of the health service are due on Saturday 3 July. A good start from the union leadership would be building towards national industrial action to win a 15% pay rise across the board.

NHS workers are tired and angry. A serious, fighting programme of action could give us a thousand Royal Londons, and rescue our health service from the Tories.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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In The Socialist 30 June 2021:

What we think

NHS after 3 July protests Trade unions must organise serious action


Fight to save our NHS

Royal London Hospital

Fight the health and care bill

Keep private hands off NHS patient data

We don't want a USA-style healthcare system


Post-pandemic railway battles loom

East Mids train guards strike


Stop the Channel 4 sell-off!

Hopeless Hancock replaced

Millionaires multiply during pandemic

Dalian Atkinson - police found guilty of killing ex-footballer

Biden police reform

Can Biden reform the police?

Workplace news

Socialist candidate wins NIPSA general secretary election

Gateshead: Sacked electricians reinstated

Support Gary Clark for CWU executive

Support Sharon Graham for Unite general secretary

End bullying and victimisation at Oaks Park school

Unite members step up action against bullying Mungo's managers

Sandwell Leisure workers: No to 'fire and rehire'


The Israeli working class

German Greens: The image and reality


Protesters halt Nadia's eviction

Brighton: Moulsecoomb strike against academisation

York residents demand land for local community needs

Young Socialists march in London

Pride is a campaign, not a business opportunity

Readers' opinion

TV Review: GB News

Readers' comments


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