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From The Socialist newspaper, 28 September 2006

NHS Logistics: Workers strike against sell-off

NHS Logistics workers strike

NHS Logistics workers strike

Workers from the NHS stores and distribution network - NHS Logistics - have been striking to prevent a takeover by a private consortium, DHL/Novation.

 These are some of the reports the socialist has received.

ON THE very wet picket line at the Maidstone depot of NHS Logistics (NHSL), Paul Harper, the UNISON branch secretary, told me that the strike was solid in his depot with only a few non-union members going through.

Bill Mullins

Earlier UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis had visited the picket line and promised the members that the union was: "with them all the way".

But, as the Financial Times reported on 25 September: "Staff at NHS Logistics are due to hold a second one-day strike starting on Tuesday night - hours after Tony Blair's farewell speech - but union officials have told ministers it will be the last."

If this is the case, then it is a disgraceful abuse of the workers on strike, some of whom have never been on strike before.

Even though they are a relatively few in number, compared to the total workforce of the NHS, the NHSL workers are crucial to the smooth running of the whole NHS operation, with billions of pounds-worth of supplies under their control from bandages to syringes - everything in fact which keeps the NHS functioning.

Unfortunately the one-day strikes are being dismissed by the management who say they can "handle this as it is the equivalent of taking into account the disruption caused by bank holidays."

All-out strike

This arrogance should be answered by the union with plans to take more extensive action up to and including an all-out strike. Tens of thousands of pounds are pouring into the union strike fund in support of the logistics strikers. Why doesn't the union build on the willingness of the strikers to struggle?

The UNISON leadership have guaranteed that no striker will be left in financial difficulties and that the union will ensure that enough money is set aside to make this happen.

The industrial action of the NHSL workers could be used as a platform to launch a massive campaign amongst all NHS workers for militant industrial action against the government's plans for wholesale privatisation of the NHS.

New Labour's plans were borne out once again by Brown's statement about handing over the running of the NHS to an "independent" board. This would be a staging post to the NHS being handed over completely to the greedy fat cats of private industry.

Not just about NHS Logistics

AS THE strike began at Alfreton, we had 20 night shift workers on the picket line with about 20 people who had finished their shift. There were also supporters from Derbyshire UNISON and the Socialist Party.

Brian Loader, UNISON NHSL Alfreton, personal capacity

The picket continued throughout the night. By 11am it was noisy and lively, with Superman joining in. PCS members and people from other UNISON branches came to show their support. We had many letters of support, including from RMT general secretary Bob Crow and Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist.

Support for the strike was good at all the depots, with large picket lines being reported. At Bury St Edmunds, for example, the 40 UNISON pickets were joined by Suffolk firefighters.

All the NHSL UNISON branch secretaries are working to make the next strike as successful as possible. We will be lobbying the Labour Party conference on 27 September. But we understand that the whole of the NHS is now under real threat. This is not just about NHS Logistics.

Runcorn strikers fight market madness

ABOUT 60 UNISON members manned a picket at the NHS Logistics base in Runcorn, Cheshire on 22 September. UNISON reps Jean and John spoke to the socialist.

"The dispute is solid, no-one's gone in", they explained. "300 people work here and most are UNISON members, so they support today's action".

When interviewed by Radio Merseyside Jean explained that the aim of the dispute is not to harm patients or disrupt the NHS, more to show the government and DHL that the workforce are serious in opposing the sell-off.

"We've just got through Agenda for Change [the job evaluation and regrading process], and now we've got this. There's too much going on."

The strikers had good support from workers passing on their way to work and from also from a couple of TNT lorry drivers.

Pickets reported that drivers of DHL vehicles, the German company that is out to privatise NHS Logistics, stopped and warned them against working for such a bad employer! The pickets were looking forward to the second strike because it would coincide with New Labour's Conference in Manchester, which they will be lobbying.

As well as local support, the dispute has got good press and TV coverage and is being watched by union reps across the NHS as they grapple with budget cuts, job losses, privatisation and other forms of market madness.

Andy Ford, North Manchester NHS Amicus and Roger Bannister, Knowsley UNISON, both in personal capacity

How DHL treat their workforce

SHOP STEWARDS representing around 5,000 GMB workers employed by DHL have called a strike ballot over pay. But, as well as being faced with a pay offer which would mean a cut in real wages, the workforce is fighting the company's casualisation plans.

DHL Express are reported to be intending to sack 3,000 permanent staff and replace them with 2,500 casual workers. This would mean DHL would not have to make national insurance payments.

The GMB stewards have said the company have indicated the pay offer will be increased if 1,800 staff agree to become casual workers.

The GMB have accused the company of behaving like "Victorian mill owners" whilst DHL have admitted they want to make "structural changes", some of which are tied to the pay deal.

None of this is any comfort to the NHS Logistics workers, fighting to stay in the NHS.

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In The Socialist 28 September 2006:


Socialist Party NHS campaign

NHS SOS

On the march to save the NHS

Lewisham - Liberals save Labour's blushes on NHS

NHS Logistics: Workers strike against sell-off

300 rally to oppose privatisation - prepare for strike action


Socialist Party campaigns

Blair out! New Labour out!

Tommy Sheridan: Murdoch's new offensive

Manchester's hostile welcome to Blair

Blair's long goodbye

Socialist Students getting a fantastic response


International socialist news and analysis

Latin America in revolt

Fighting the neo-liberal offensive

Capitalism's ruthless struggle for oil and gas

Class unity is the only answer

Mass protests over 'lies speech'

Cuba - before and after the revolution


 

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