Decked out in “Save Our NHS” T-shirts, some 250 strikers from Manchester’s mental health and social care trust formed some of the liveliest picket lines of the day.
Their one-day strike was in protest at proposed cuts that will mean job losses and decimation of the service.
The community nurses, mental health nurses, occupational therapists and support workers who are members of the Unison union picketed each one of the trust’s main sites.
Union activists estimate that only a handful of Unison members crossed the picket lines that involved up to three quarters of the union’s membership at the trust.
At the North Manchester General Hospital cars formed a quarter of a mile long queue into the hospital, as staff who were not part of the action stopped to sign petitions and put money in the strikers’ buckets.
Maria O’Hare is part of a team of mental health nurses based at the General and she has worked for the NHS for 22 years. She told Socialist Worker about how the cuts would affect her.
“My job involves caring for older patients with mental health problems like Alzheimer’s disease,” she said. “The cuts, or ‘reorganisation’ as management calls it, will tear my team apart.
“They want to replace four highly trained and experienced mental health nurses – a quarter of the current total – with just one untrained social worker.
“That means extremely vulnerable people, their carers and families are going to end up without proper support. I don’t know how some of them will be able to cope – there’s a real possibility some of them will end up on the streets.”
Mental health workers in Manchester are now planning further one-day strikes on Wednesday of this week and next week, followed by a three-day strike starting on 20 February.
The 60-strong picket line at the Manchester Royal Infirmary was among the biggest of the day. Local cafe owners brought tea and food to the strikers, who held impromptu meetings to decide who would speak to reporters.
Natalie Hewett is an occupational therapist and has been based at the Infirmary since 2003.
“I think we’re going to end up with a health system like the one in the US,” she said. “The poorest people are going to have no access to proper health care, while the middle class will buy their own services privately.
“That’s the worst thing that could happen to this country. We’ve already got crap US fast food – now they want to sell us their crap healthcare too.”
Mental health nurse Pat Estwick argued that government policy lay behind the cuts imposed by the trust.
“I’m someone who always used to vote Labour, but now I think they’re a Tory party in disguise,” she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they got kicked out at the next election because of what they’re doing to our public services.”
There was a tremendous feeling of solidarity and confidence among all the strikers. Everyone talked of the need for more action to beat management.
“We’re all going to lose six days pay out of next month’s wages,” said Karen Reissmann, the local Unison branch secretary.
“For many people here, that is an awful lot of money. We are counting on trade unionists across Britain to raise money for our hardship fund. With your support, we are going to win.”
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