Bosses' new offer goes up in flames
HEALTH WORKERS on strike across Dudley hospitals in the West Midlands have now held 13 days of strike action. Around 600 workers are battling against a clutch of private firms in the consortium Summit Healthcare which wants to take over their jobs. They are porters, caterers, domestics, laundry workers, and those in medical records and sterile services.
New Labour backs such transfers out of the NHS under its Private Finance Initiative (PFI). The latest strike, which lasted seven days, finished last Saturday. During that week the NHS trust bosses brought in agency scabs, refusing to accept the strikers' emergency cover.
The biggest firm in the consortium, Building and Property, issued a letter to strikers claiming it would guarantee the workers' current contracts if they signed their NHS jobs away.
But the strikers held firm. "The letter was crap," said Elizabeth, a striker from Wordsley Hospital. "They were trying to divide us. "We got all the letters together and had an official burning ceremony on the picket line."
The strikers also voted last week to hold another seven-day strike, due to start on Sunday. Up to 300 of the strikers and their supporters joined a rally last Saturday. The speakers included the Coventry socialist councillor Dave Nellist, and Yunus Bakhsh, branch secretary of the Newcastle UNISON City Health branch.
"It's up to you to build that solidarity. Get delegations to every major workplace. Demand that solidarity," said Yunus. Some of that work has already started. Phil, a porter from Wordsley Hospital, said, "We've got to go round local workplaces and get people involved. I was a bit scared when I first started speaking at these meetings. But if you speak from the heart you can win people. I've spoken now to people in London, and locally to council workers in Sandwell and Coventry."
Ben, another Wordsley porter, said, "We have had a good response from people in Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham council offices and the UNISON branch." Workers at Birmingham's Aldridge day centre donated �35 and workers at the council's transportation depot gave �60.
Rodney Bickerstaffe, head of the strikers' UNISON union, has also pledged the union's full backing. He and UNISON's president visited picket lines on Thursday of last week. Bickerstaffe promised to mail every UNISON branch publicising the strike and asking for donations to the strike fund.
The Dudley strike is a key test for New Labour's plans to privatise the NHS. In trade unions and communities across the West Midlands and nationally it is an opportunity to stand up to New Labour's Tory policies by backing a group of workers striking for the NHS.
- Demo in support of Dudley strikers, Saturday 23 September, 12 noon, outside Corbett Hospital, Stourbridge.
- Messages of support and donations: Union Offices, Wordsley Hospital, Stourbridge, West Midlands DY8 5QX. Phone/fax 01384 244 350. Cheques payable to UNISON Dudley Group of Hospitals.
BRIAN SOUTER, millionaire owner of Stagecoach buses, has sacked one of his key hatchet men, Mike Chambers. Chambers used to run the Ribblebus service in Lancashire.
Around 700 drivers have been involved in strike action at Ribblebus for a series of days over the last five months. "Our manager told us Chambers had gone, and there was surprise and joy across our canteen. There wasn't a glum face in Burnley," one of the drivers told Socialist Worker.
"Chambers once said, 'I've never been beaten by a union and I never will be'." His hasty departure shows the tension within the Stagecoach empire. The strikers have a chance to stick the boot in. They were due to escalate their action to a four-day strike beginning on Friday.
Drivers on First Group's buses in Manchester were also due to strike this Friday and on Monday of next week.
This would mean around 2,400 drivers bringing north Manchester and Lancashire to a standstill in united action for decent pay. Around 1,500 drivers on Lothian busses in Edinburgh voted two to one for strikes over pay last week.
AROUND 270 childcare workers in Plymouth social services took the first day of escalating strike action against proposed closures and job cuts Monday. Some 18 picket lines ensured only an emergency service ran from one office, with other offices, social work teams and family centres closed for the day.
Over 500 angry workers held a lively demonstration through the city centre. A rally heard support messages from GMB and UCATT unions, trades councils and UNISON branches across the country.
Strikers went inside the council meeting, which was held up by protest action. More than 15,000 signatures have been collected in six weeks of campaigning against the cuts, and public meetings have shown huge public support. The newly elected Tory council decided to make �933,000 of cuts in care. The UNISON campaign has forced concessions, winning �250,000, saving one residential home from closure and saving one family centre from closure last week.
At the same time the Tories have launched a vicious attack on the council unions, withdrawing facility time from elected stewards and threatening to shut the UNISON office.
Strikers are buoyant. Now UNISON and the GMB are to jointly ballot members in services for adults to escalate the action. UNISON is due to strike again on Tuesday 19 and Wednesday 20 September, increasing to three days the following week and five days at the beginning of October.
- Messages of support and donations: City of Plymouth UNISON, 13 Windsor Place, The Hoe, Plymouth PL1 2HN. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
IT IS not just health workers who have criticised PFI schemes. The King's Fund, a healthcare think tank, published a report last week saying PFI plans could be "wasteful and inappropriate". The fund is not against private firms in the NHS. But its research has shown that PFI can mean the local community gets worse healthcare.
The report's author, Anthony Harrison, says the elderly can bear the brunt of PFI's failings. AMEC, which is involved in many PFI schemes, has been moaning that the scheme doesn't give it enough profit.
Peter Mason, AMEC's chief executive, said last week that PFI had contributed "nothing to share valuations of the business". Yet AMEC announced pre-tax profits of �32.4 million, up 18 percent, for the first half of this year.
- SECTIONS OF UNISON union members at Ealing council, west London, were due to strike on Friday of this week and the following Monday in a long running dispute over attempts to make them work longer hours.
- WORKERS FROM Birmingham council's Direct Labour Organisation were planning a protest on Tuesday of this week against the council's plans to privatise their department.
The local press has witch-hunted the workers in recent weeks, with the council claiming that absenteeism rather than inadequate funding is to blame for delays on repairs.
- RELATIVES, FAMILIES and trade unionists forced Hammersmith's Labour council to back down from its plans to close Lakefield old peoples' home last week.
The council, in west London, wanted to move the 27 residents to a privately-run home, run by Associated Nursing Services plc whose chairman is Tory ex-minister Sir Neil MacFarlane. Peter Turner, president of the local GMB union branch, praised the three Labour councillors who voted against the closure.
ROYAL MAIL has confirmed a massive shake-up of postal offices in London. In addition to the upheaval at Mount Pleasant, where 2,000 jobs are threatened, the big NDO and EDO offices will shut completely.
EDO's work is expected to move to a new �40 million site at Bromley-by-Bow. The NDO work will be dispersed partly to other London offices and partly to a new office at Greenford.
Work is planned to start moving in May next year, with the move to be completed by early 2003. A CWU union member at NDO told Socialist Worker, "We should fight to keep the office here and these jobs in the area."
- POSTAL WORKERS at delivery offices in Bridgend, Aberdare and Pontypridd struck on Thursday of last week and on Monday this week over attendance procedures.
The action is the latest in a series of 24-hour strikes against the sacking of three workers while on sick leave. Workers at Penarth Road in Cardiff are also balloting for a strike over their own issue.
TEACHERS AT Kingsland School in Hackney, east London, have been boosted by the resignation of their headteacher and the director of education in the borough. Members of the National Union of Teachers in the school have been fighting the victimisation of joint union rep Indro Sen, and against disciplinary action taken against the two dozen teachers who walked out in his support.
The teachers are also fighting the outrageous decision by their own national union leaders to suspend them from the union for taking action in support of their colleague.
Kingsland teachers are due to attend a union disciplinary hearing at the end of this month or the beginning of next. They are calling for a lobby of the hearings on the day and want the widest possible support for a number of other initiatives.
- Public meeting: Defend Indro Sen, defend Kingsland School, defend comprehensive education. Speakers: Paul Foot, Mike Rosen and others. Thursday 28 September, 6.30pm, Assembly Rooms, Hackney Town Hall, Mare Street, E8
- Lobby the NUT executive, Wednesday 4 October, 4.15pm, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place (Kings Cross or Euston tube)
- Broadsheets explaining the issues at Kingsland from John Yandell, Kingsland School, Shacklewell Lane, London E8 2EY. Phone 020 7254 8722.
MANCHESTER metropolitan University was to close the swimming pool at its Didsbury site on Friday. The pool is used as much by the local community as by students and staff. The university expects everyone to use the new Commonwealth Games pool two miles away, which opens the day after.
Manchester council is reviewing its leisure facilities and expects to either close pools or bring in private companies to run them. Campaigners have organised a demonstration at the new pool.
They are not against having a new pool, but do not accept that existing facilities have to close or be privatised to pay for it. Already campaigning in the Chorlton and Levenshulme areas of Manchester has won undertakings from the council that these local pools will not close.
A protest is also planned by users and the community against the closure of the pool in Harpurhey.
OVER 40 campaigners protested against the government's asylum vouchers scheme outside Tesco's Broadleaf Centre branch in Bristol on Saturday. They collected 290 signatures on a petition calling for refugees to be given benefits in cash rather than vouchers, and handed out 1,000 leaflets.
There were nine union banners on the protest, including from the TGWU, CWU, MSF, NUT and UNISON.
- GLASGOW CAMPAIGN to Welcome Refugees held a lively demonstration against the voucher system outside Safeway on Byers Road on Saturday.
They collected signatures on a petition and asked for donations to buy baby milk. Shoppers donated �60 worth of goods.
THE NATIONAL Network of Socialist Alliances will meet soon to decide its policy for the next general election. The meeting will take place on Saturday 30 September in the Methodist Central Hall, Warwick Road, Coventry from 11.30am to 4pm.
To join the Network of Socialist Alliances send �6 to Pete McLaren, 32 The Green, Long Lawford, Rugby CV23 9BL.
- THE TYNESIDE Socialist Alliance has its launch meeting on Thursday 5 October at 7.30pm at the Royal Station Hotel in Newcastle.
The speakers include Tommy Sheridan MSP, Hilary Wainwright, editor of Red Pepper, John Rees from the London Socialist Alliance, Dave Nellist, chair of the National Network of Socialist Alliances and Shirley Winter, vice-president of the United Campaign for the Repeal of the Anti Trade Union Laws.
SOME 60 parents, teachers and pupils attended a protest meeting against the closure of Windsor High School in Salford last week. They confronted the director of education, pointing out that the proposed closure follows the shutting down of the local primary school, welfare advice centre, youth clubs and nurseries.
Scrap the council tax - For a Scottish service tax
Saturday 7 October Assemble 11.30am, George Square, Glasgow Called by Scottish Socialist Party