'Turn words into action' Dudley strikers tell union leaders
Helen Shooter reports from Cardiff
SOME 60 striking health workers from Dudley Group of Hospitals lobbied the health sector conference of the UNISON public sector union, which began in Cardiff on Monday of this week. The ancillary workers were on their 133rd day of strike action against the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).
The strikers held a 150-strong conference fringe meeting. It was addressed by Angela Thompson, a striking catering worker who is standing as a Socialist Alliance candidate in the general election.
She echoed many strikers' sense of frustration that the UNISON leadership have only given token support to the dispute since it began last August. "We have shown our strength and determination. But if we could have won alone we would have done it by now," said Angela.
"For the last four years I've been coming to the health conference arguing for a serious campaign against PFI. We are no nearer that today." Angela urged UNISON members to "go back to your branches and put as much pressure on this union and this government as you can. I'm standing as a Socialist Alliance candidate because I intend to expose New Labour for what they are. They gave us false promises in 1997."
Phil, another striker, added, "We're told UNISON can't afford a national campaign for us. But I see UNISON is going to give a seven-figure sum to the Labour Party, and they say they can't afford one national advert about our strike. It's a bloody shame."
Marilyn, a health conference delegate from Norwich, was one of those at the meeting who pledged continued support for the strike. "Everybody needs to get behind this," she said.
WE ARE student nurses working and living in the University College London Hospitals (UCLH). Our bursary is �460 a month, the equivalent of �2.60 an hour. Out of that we are expected to pay �260 per calendar month in rent for a small single room. Some student nurses have dropped out because of debt. Many more of us feel that with mounting debt we will have no choice but to follow them.
We are sad and angry we may be forced to do this. We were told by Gordon Brown in the budget that money is being pumped into the NHS to help recruit and retain nurses for the NHS. Our reality is that we may have to leave because of poverty pay and high rents.
We ask you to join us in a lobby of the UCLH trust board next Wednesday, 4 April, 5.30pm, outside the National Temperance Hospital, 112 Hampstead Road, London NW1.
- STUDENT NURSES, UCLH
Royal London Hospital
MANAGEMENT AT east London's biggest hospital have launched a serious attack on workers' union organisation amid a fight over a PFI privatisation plan. Bosses at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel have suspended UNISON shop steward Frank de Guelle, a health support worker who has worked in the NHS for ten years.
Frank has been targeted over his alleged "aggressive" behaviour in two clashes with management. One involved him representing a black union member who had a grievance. The other was over Frank distributing leaflets five weeks ago to build a union-backed meeting against the PFI privatisation scheme.
The meeting was a resounding success and launched a serious campaign against one of the country's biggest PFI schemes. This will mean hundreds of jobs axed and the hospital building privatised. Workers are in no doubt that Frank has been singled out for his active opposition to privatisation.
"Managers don't like the fact that Frank and the union have been campaigning against the PFI scheme," says UNISON branch secretary Phil Billows. Union activists were out over the weekend leafleting wards and across the hospital to win support for Frank, and to build for a mass meeting.
"If anyone is being aggressive it is management in their attitude towards people who stand against their plans," says Phil Billows. "We're having a mass union meeting and will propose that we take whatever action necessary to stand by Frank and defend the union."
- Rush messages of support to Phil Billows, UNISON branch secretary, Union Office, Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Road, London E1 1BB. Fax 020 7377 7679.
A missed opportunity
UNISON LEADERS stressed their continued support for the Dudley workers' fight on the first morning of the health conference. But they wasted the chance to put their words against PFI into action. They argued against a call for a national demonstration against health secretary Alan Milburn in his Darlington constituency.
Sasha Strike, a Newcastle delegate, argued for the demonstration: "Our members don't want to work in a privatised NHS. We can effectively show this by a demonstration. I voted Labour hoping for a better future. What have we got? Privatisation. People feel cheated. Workers feel New Labour are the Tories in sheep's clothing."
But UNISON head of health Bob Abberley argued that demonstrations were "old fashioned". "If you can't turn out enough numbers from your branch, and I mean a bus full, then don't support the motion," he said. The vote for a march was narrowly lost on a show of hands.
UNISON's leaders do not want an all-out confrontation with New Labour in the run-up to the election. But the mood of the delegates was one of deep bitterness at the government's continued privatisation in the NHS.
Organising the resistance to privatisation
Called by the Dudley strikers
This Saturday, 31 March, 12 noon-4pm South Camden Community School, Charrington Street, London NW1
Speakers include Tony Benn MP; Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary elect; Bob Crow, RMT assistant general secretary; Liz Davies, ex Labour Party NEC Backed by the RMT national executive and the London regions of the RMT, ASLEF and FBU unions