MEDICAL SECRETARIES in Sunderland were out in numbers on the picket line on Tuesday of this week. They have escalated their action to a four-day strike. The 136 women NHS workers are determined to up the pressure on their trust bosses to put them on a higher grade.
Last week the women held a hugely successful three-day strike, with mass pickets outside the hospital gates on each day. Strikers gave their boss, chief executive Andrew Gibson, hell when he came out to speak to the pickets. At first he had to hide behind a fence. Strikers surrounded him singing (to the tune of 'Bob the Builder'), 'Can he fix it? No, he can't!'
The strikers had been inspired at a rally the previous day by Carolyn Leckie, representing medical secretaries in Glasgow. The Glasgow workers won higher pay after taking increasingly militant action escalating to an all-out strike last year. Sunderland workers want to follow their example.
Striker after striker at a rally last week spoke of how they wanted to move immediately to a longer strike. 'We have to get them on the run,' said one striker. 'They didn't expect us, a group of normally quiet, non-militant women, to walk out,' said another striker. 'They got a huge shock when they saw 100 loud women on the picket line.'
The workers are in a strong position. A neighbouring trust, Northumbria, has already said it will regrade medical secretaries after they threatened to strike.
Other ballots are taking place across the north east of England. The Sunderland strike is solid, with a very high level of involvement. Every single medical secretary joined the picket lines last week. This week the workers are organising delegations to local workplaces. As Unison union branch secretary Ann Clay says, 'There is an amazing level of unity of purpose and a fantastic level of support.' All the workers are confident they can win.
Unison leaders now need to make sure that they raise solidarity across the union to ensure a victory. Every trade unionist should raise solidarity, including inviting strikers to address union meetings.
Send messages of support to Unison Northern Region, 140-150 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 6TH. Fax 0191 245 0899.