Leading trade union activists in the health service are battling to ensure that anger at the government’s 1.9 percent pay insult is turned into effective industrial action.
“The fight over pay in the NHS has the potential to rock this government just as Gordon Brown comes into office, but it is going to be our first national strike in 20 years, and we’ve got to be organised for it,” Mark Ladbrooke, of the Unison union’s health executive, told Socialist Worker.
“It is vital that shop stewards and branch officers help create a feeling among the membership that action over pay is coming.
“We can use Unison’s health service pay leaflet (which can be downloaded at www.unison.org.uk/file/A5189.pdf) as the basis for touring hospital buildings, talking to people about pay and what the union plans to do about it.”
Karen Reissmann, who is also a member of the Unison health executive, agrees.
“I think we need to start setting up meetings of stewards and activists in our hospitals and trusts to give people some ideas about how to start the process. We need to motivate them,” she said.
“There are lots of new staff who, when they hear that the union is going to put a fight, will want to join us. We have to recruit them and put them to work too.
“We can also organise consultation meetings where people get a chance to talk about any concerns or fears that members have.”
Mark and Karen both stress the need for regional meetings, where the experiences of some of the better organised branches can be used to propel some of the weaker ones.
Karen said, “We can invite speakers and representatives from the other health unions, and even from other groups of workers who are fighting the government over pay, such as those in local government or the postal workers that look set to take strike action very soon.”
Mark added, “It is very important that activists do not get demoralised by the slow pace of the campaign so far, or by the fact that Gordon Brown has so far refused to meet the union to talk about our pay.
“We have to impose our own agenda on this battle.
“It is possible that the health executive will back a fringe meeting on NHS pay at Unison’s forthcoming national delegate conference.
“It would be a great opportunity to get many of the leading activists from around the country together in order to develop a strategy that is centred on the strike action that we voted for at the recent Unison health conference.”
Mark and Karen spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.