Don't let Dudley stand alone
"WE ARE sending a clear message to Alan Milburn. We are the people who work in the NHS and we've every intention of staying in the NHS."
Hazel Priest, domestic worker and treasurer of the Dudley Group of Hospitals UNISON branch, was cheered to the rafters when she railed against New Labour health secretary Alan Milburn last Saturday.
She was speaking to 400 strikers and their supporters crammed into Stourbridge Town Hall after a determined demonstration through the town centre.
The march took place in the middle of a 12-day strike, the sixth round of strike action by hospital workers against their jobs being sold off to private companies under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).
Strikers were furious at a statement put out by New Labour health minister John Denham last week claiming the PFI scheme was a good deal for the people of Dudley.
Joint UNISON branch secretary Angela Thompson said, "How? There'll be 70 fewer beds! "He says it's a sound deal for staff. How? Privatisation means we'll be employed by five different private companies, making profits off our backs."
The Dudley strikers are not only seething at the government. They are also increasingly angry at their national UNISON leaders for not pulling out the stops to mobilise the solidarity needed for Dudley to win. Delegations from UNISON branches in Wiltshire, Plymouth, Manchester, Gloucester, Leeds, London, Newcastle and elsewhere joined Saturday's march.
But the demonstration could have been much bigger if UNISON had mobilised its full forces. UNISON officials got a shock when strikers vented their anger in a conference on PFI organised by West Midlands UNISON which took place just before Saturday's march.
UNISON national officer Steven Weeks was heckled when he brought a message of support from UNISON leader Rodney Bickerstaffe. "Where is he?" shouted several people.
Glynn Thomas, a striker from the Russells Hall hospital, was cheered when he said, "I came out on strike in August solely over the issue of keeping our jobs in the NHS. Now we're told that our fight is about stopping PFI. That's OK. But if we're stopping PFI then why isn't every UNISON member balloted and called out on strike? That's what we need to do."
UNISON official Steven Weeks claimed that any national action would be illegal. But this only got people's backs up. Mark, a striker from Corbetts Hospital, said, "Why haven't you done anything for Kidderminster Hospital or Selly Oak Hospital? They face PFI just like us. Is it workers who don't want a strike or the union leaders who will not back a strike?"
Mick McGahey Jnr from Lothian in Scotland asked UNISON officials, "There is a serious question that needs to be answered. What exactly is our relationship with the Labour Party? What are we getting back for the money we are putting in?"
And a TGWU member said, "Today it is porters, caterers, cleaners-the so called dogsbodies of the NHS. It will be nurses and doctors the day after that. It's a bloody disgrace."
The Dudley strikers were set to decide their next stage of action at a mass meeting this week. They are determined that there will be no compromise.
It is about time UNISON leaders matched the strikers' will to fight and called a national day of protest and a national demonstration against PFI.
- Messages of support and donations: UNISON Dudley Group of Hospitals, UNISON Office, Wordsley Hospital, Stourbridge, West Midlands DY8 5QX. Phone/fax: 01384 244 350.
MALKIAT Bilku, one of the leaders of the Hillingdon Hospital workers, has finally won her job back.
Malkiat was at the forefront of the Hillingdon workers' five-year fight. The women won two industrial tribunals against Pall Mall and its successor, Granada.
In August this year Granada finally started re-employing the workers and on 30 October Malkiat Bilku started working at Hillingdon again. It shows the value of fighting back.
MANY SOCIALISTS and trade unionists will feel utterly betrayed by MP Dennis Canavan's decision to rejoin the Labour Party and make his peace with Labour's leaders.
Canavan was elected last year as an independent member of the Scottish Parliament for Falkirk West. Labour leaders had said he was not good enough to be a candidate, even though he was a Labour MP.
Canavan's campaign became a rallying point for all those on the left who were fed up with New Labour. His election was a clear sign that it is possible to build broad support outside the Labour Party.
Last month Canavan announced he would resign his Westminster seat and trigger a by-election. He said, "The centre of gravity of the Labour Party has switched fundamentally to the right. The party has lost its soul."
But now, to the great disappointment of many of his supporters, Canavan says he is backing down. People in Falkirk last week were overwhelmingly dismayed by Canavan's decision.
Foundry worker Patrick Miles said, "He is two faced. I voted for him in the last election and I think he should stay where he is-independent. He is only going to satisfy the Labour Party down in England, and they were the very ones who threw him out."
Dewar's successor, right winger Henry McLeish, will be delighted to avoid a potentially embarrassing by-election. Canavan's decision is particularly bad because the left outside Labour is growing in Scotland.
The Scottish Socialist Party is on course to win at least three seats at the next Scottish Parliament elections and has defeated the Liberal Democrats (part of the Scottish governing coalition) in eight of the last nine council by-elections.
THE SCOTTISH Socialist Party is standing in the election for a Westminster MP and a Member of the Scottish Parliament in Glasgow Anniesland. The elections were caused by the death of Donald Dewar.
Charlie McCarthy is standing for the Westminster seat and Rosie Kane for the Scottish Parliament. The SSP is calling for more public ownership, big pension increases, redistribution of wealth from rich to poor, and a halt to the mass transfer of council housing.
Rosie Kane says, "A vote for the SSP is a pat on the back for socialism and a kick up the arse to capitalism." Every socialist should help the SSP's campaign.
- CAMPAIGNING got under way last weekend for the Socialist Alliance candidate, Terry Cartwright, in the Preston parliamentary by-election which takes place on Thursday 23 November.
The Westminster seat was made vacant by the recent death of Labour left winger Audrey Wise. New Labour has picked a Blairite candidate to contest the seat, former Euro MP Mark Hendrick.
Lancashire Socialist Alliance candidate Terry Cartwright is a well known Labour Independent councillor on Preston council. Terry says, "We want to be a pole of attraction for those who believe in a fairer, more equal society."
He is standing against privatisation and the sell- off of council housing, for pensions to be linked to earnings, for a fully funded NHS and for renationalising the rail and other utilities.
The Lancashire Socialist Alliance is organising stalls and canvassing every Saturday and Sunday, meeting at 1 pm in the town centre and at the University of Central Lancashire.
- Send donations to LSA, c/o 39 Grafton Street, Preston. Cheques to be made payable to Lancashire Socialist Alliance.
- Election rally, Tuesday 21 November, 7pm, Committee Room 3, Preston Town Hall.
- SOME 140 people went to the launch meeting of the Merseyside Socialist Alliance on Thursday of last week.
People reported on the 500-strong march and rally by north west pensioners that took place in Liverpool city centre last week.
There were also reports of the campaign against a landfill site in Bootle, and of a ballot for strikes among Merseyside firefighters.
Forthcoming Socialist Alliance meetings include:
- WALTHAM FOREST LSA: Wednesday 15 November, 7.30pm, Ross Wyld Hall, Church Hill, Walthamstow.
- OXFORD SA: Thursday 16 November, 7.30pm, Temple Cowley Middle School, Temple Road, Cowley.
- BIRMINGHAM SA: Tuesday 21 November, 7.30pm, United Services Club, Gough Street.
- CARDIFF SA: Thursday 23 November, 7.30pm, Sophia Gardens.
- BRADFORD SA: Thursday 30 November, 7.30pm, Priestley Arts and Leisure Centre, Chapel Street, Little Germany.
- PLYMOUTH SA: Thursday 30 November, 7.30pm, Ballard Centre, The Crescent.
- MANCHESTER City Council housing department has put its plans to shut down 14 local housing offices on hold because of a storm of opposition.
The plan has been deferred, giving workers and tenants more time to organise resistance.
- COUNCIL workers in Knowsley on Merseyside are to ballot for strikes over plans to increase the working week from 35 to 37 hours.
The council wants to impose the longer week on any new staff from 1 February next year. It also wants the change to apply to anyone promoted within the council.
- BROMLEY council has backed off from its attempt to victimise Glenn Kelly, the UNISON branch secretary, thanks to the campaign in his defence.
Glenn was suspended by the south east London council in August for opposing staffing cuts in sheltered accommodation. The Liberal-Labour coalition has given Glenn a written warning.
- UNISON MEMBERS at CSL Stratford in east London held a second lunchtime picket last Thursday in protest at the suspension of three of their shop stewards.
CSL suspended the stewards for writing to a housing magazine about how vulnerable people were facing eviction because they had to wait months for their housing benefit claims to be assessed.
600 go all out
SOME 600 workers in around half of Scottish councils were on all-out strike this week as part of the council workers' fight for a decent pay rise.
In some areas the action was having a visible impact with rubbish going uncollected. In other areas the action was hitting councils' ability to collect council tax and other money.
The fight will be stepped up a gear next Thursday when all 80,000 UNISON union members across Scotland's councils stage a one-day strike. More selected groups of workers are also due to join the all-out action in coming weeks.
The 16 November one-day strike will be the third by Scotland's council workers. They are demanding a pay rise of 5 percent or 500, whichever is greater. They are also demanding a minimum hourly rate of 5 an hour to help the lowest paid.
Two one-day strikes earlier in the year pushed councils to marginally increase their original offer to just over 3 percent, as part of a complex two-year package.
But in a ballot workers threw that out by a 68 percent vote, triggering the latest strikes. "There is a determination to stand firm," says one Edinburgh council worker. "No one wants to accept the employers' offer."
And a Glasgow worker says, "There's a lot of support for 16 November." In several councils workers are leaving the TGWU and GMB unions, which have accepted the employers' offer, and are joining UNISON so they can strike.
But there is also unease about UNISON's strategy.
"The action is very passive," says an Edinburgh UNISON shop steward. "Those on strike are just being sent home. It's even quite difficult to find out who is on strike in your own council. The groups called out so far are not hitting the councils hard enough. People want action that has a much bigger impact."
Next week's action needs to be as solid and active as possible. But workers also need to push for more hard hitting action.
WORKERS AT Luton airport have been given an ultimatum by their bosses. Some 250 workers, half the staff, have been told sign new contracts or be sacked.
The new contracts are part of a major restructuring at the airport that includes massive contracting out of services. The workers have already voted overwhelmingly for action over this issue and staged a lightning walkout.
Now their unions must stand up to this bullying.
GRANTS NOT FEES NATIONAL MARCH
Wednesday 15 November Assemble 11.30am, ULU, Malet Street, central London
- Called by the National Union of Students
DEMONSTRATE AGAINST THE NAZI NF Assemble 12 noon, Sunday 12 November Bressenden Place, London SW1 Called by ANL Supported by Jewish Socialist Group and Searchlight