All out and determined to win. That was the message from medical secretaries on the picket line in Sunderland in the north east of England on Monday of this week.
They have now escalated to an all-out indefinite strike to win better pay. The health workers, all low paid women, are in an angry and militant mood. As one medical secretary explained, 'They can't ignore us if we are no longer going back in to sort out the work. They have to take us seriously now we are out and sticking out.'
The strikers also received a boost last week when the senior medical secretaries, who had previously been working, joined the strike. Management had introduced the higher grade a few months ago, and hoped it would divide the workforce. Although the nine senior secretaries are already on the top of grade four (the grade the secretaries are fighting for) they have still come out in solidarity with the lower paid secretaries.
There was a great sense of solidarity on the picket line on Monday of this week, with some 60 strikers outside Sunderland Royal Hospital. Lindsey, a medical secretary, said, 'We get between £11,000 and £13,000, and that's it, even if you've been in the job for 30 years. We just want fair pay and recognition. We've shown that we can come a long way by sticking together and showing solidarity. We have the public and patients behind us. They know we are fighting for the NHS.'
The women strikers have got together to write picket line songs that they sing outside the office of their NHS trust chief executive, ex army sergeant major Andrew Gibson. There is huge anger at the payouts to fat cats like Gibson, while workers are expected to shoulder the brunt of working in an underfunded health service threatened with privatisation.
Striker Lynne Harrison told Socialist Worker, 'Our chief executive is one of the best paid in the whole country. 'He handed himself a massive pay rise recently and now gets £110,000 a year. The contributions to his pension are £16,000, more than we get in a year.' Medical secretaries across the north east are furious about their low pay. The results of ballots for strikes at South Tyneside and South Durham NHS trusts were due to be announced on Wednesday of this week.
'We haven't heard a word from the government or from local Labour MPs,' reports striker Kathleen Bowmaker. This is despite these hospitals being in the backyard of leading New Labour ministers' constituencies-Tony Blair and health secretary Alan Milburn.
Local Unison officials need to organise delegation work, solidarity meetings and collections to widen the support for the medical secretaries. Trade unionists everywhere need to match the determination and fighting spirit of the secretaries with solidarity collections.
Send messages of support and donations to Unison Office, Royal Hospital, Kayall Road, Sunderland SR4 7TP. Phone 0191 565 6256 ext 42145. Fax 0191 569 9265. Email [email protected]