"I've worked in Whipps Cross as a porter for 5 years now, and I have to say Serco are the worst employers. They are bullies. They even cut the number of porters - with a knock-on effect on the service we provide to very ill patients. They don't care".
These were the sentiments of just one of the hundreds of porters, cleaners, catering and security staff employed by Serco who are now on strike. Their demands are simple - an increase of a modest 30p an hour, and an end to zero-hour contracts. Serco makes huge profits out of ill health. They are refusing to budge.
So far there have been three days of action, plus another seven days - big bold noisy pickets - marches and dancing in the streets - visits to workplaces seeking solidarity - protests at the employment agencies - it's been an amazing couple of weeks. If necessary they are prepared to strike for two weeks. Their cause is just. For many an extra 30p would only bring their pay to £10 an hour.
A call went out from the Trades Council to get a Solidarity Group off the ground. Strikers, trade unionists, anti-austerity campaigners and the general public responded. Plans were drawn up to get the message out across the borough and to get financial and physical support for the next phase - a 14-day strike. Lots of plans, ideas and imaginative actions were discussed to put pressure on Serco, make them feel the heat of masses of workers who can't live on the pay. Break the 1% pay cap. These bosses can well afford it. Serco CEO takes home almost £2 million! The contract with Bart's Trust brings them £600 million. They can well afford 30p an hour!
Len Hockey, the secretary of Unite the union, which is leading the dispute, in an up-beat contribution explained how this is a landmark dispute. It arose as soon as Serco took over. On their first day they cancelled cleaners' tea breaks at the London Hospital! The cleaners reacted and occupied the canteen. By the end of the day Serco relented! He gave examples of uncleaned toilets and bags of rubbish now piling high at Whipps. He declared: "When the bosses don't go into work, nobody notices. When workers don't go in everybody notices. We are up for a fight to win"