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Striking porters 'a hundred times stronger' in bosses' 'nightmare scenario'
Philip Stott, Socialist Party Scotland
In the city's longest-running strike for over twenty years, Dundee hospital porters are into their tenth week of action.
Porters at Scotland's Ninewells and Royal Victoria hospitals are fighting for a raise they were due over ten years ago. The Scottish Terms and Conditions Committee (Stac) is the official body where NHS Scotland unions and bosses negotiate. It will publish a review into porters' demands later this week.
General union Unite has made a clear, unarguable case. Porters should have moved from pay band one to two under the NHS 'Agenda for Change' - implemented in 2004.
Indeed, three Agenda for Change panels ruled porters should be on the higher grade. Management initiated a fourth, which concluded the porters should be in band one.
Despite repeated requests for documented proof that the union signed the agreement, NHS bosses have failed to provide it.
Speaking to the Socialist, senior steward Graham Nelson said: "Few of us have any real faith in Stac publishing a report that delivers for porters.
"If it does then fine - but we want face-to-face talks with NHS Tayside to ensure we get a band-two grading for all porters, and full-time, permanent posts for temporary porters. And compensation for being underpaid for so long. Whatever Stac says, the strike will continue until our demands are met."
Striking porter Mark Gilligan told the Socialist: "The last ten weeks have been like one big learning curve and bonding session. We're a hundred times stronger as a group than when we started our strike action.
"One thing that is clear is when the time comes, we'll be going back more united and determined than ever before. I would guess that's a nightmare scenario for management. They'll get away with nothing from now on."
Porters are critical to running hospitals. Everything from patient movement to mail, medical rec-ords, clinical waste and supplying bedding.
Management has been taking on portering duties - but failing to cope. Bosses had hoped to rely on other NHS staff to cover for the strike. But as one hospital worker exposed last week in the local press: "There is general support for the porters. The nurses have been facing their own pay dispute which has taken years, and it feels like the porters are striking on behalf of all of us.
"It is absolute rubbish when management say everything is under control. We're at the end of our tether."
Over 100 porters, striking Glasgow homelessness caseworkers and supporters protested at the Scottish parliament when the porters' case was raised. The so-called "anti-austerity" Scottish National Party and their public representatives have completely failed to back the porters.
However, the protest, and lobbies at MSPs' surgeries in Dundee, have had an impact. First Minster Nicola Sturgeon broke her silence, and said in parliament: "The porters are a fantastic bunch of people" and "I am hopeful that [Stac] will lead to a successful resolution."
Solidarity from wider NHS staff, trade unionists and the public has been crucial to the strike from the start. "The cheques and donations keep pouring in", Graham explained. "Just this morning a guy stopped at the picket line on his motorbike and handed in £200 in cash - I've no idea who he was.
"We went through to Perth last week to the EIS teachers' union conference, and delegates donated £300 in the buckets. We've had £100 from Glasgow City Unison, whose own homelessness caseworkers are in their eleventh week of action. £1,000 was also given from the Tayside Unite health branch. The public support is inspiring."
The porters' unity and solidarity was marked last week at the funeral of one of their own. There was a huge turnout for Grahame "Findus" Nicholson, who died on 29 May.
Grahame was buried with the red flag of his trade union and a striking porter's t-shirt. It is to Grahame, his family and friends that this article is dedicated.
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