Socialist Worker

Why are we paid so little?

Issue No. 1855

MILLIONS OF words have been written about the euro this week. But there is one currency question that neither Tony Blair nor Gordon Brown will confront - the scandalous poverty wages that millions of workers in Britain are forced to exist on.

One in five workers in Britain get below £6 an hour. That's just £240 a week for rent or mortgage, bills, childcare and food. One in three children still live below the breadline - despite all the government's pledges to end child poverty. Some of the lowest paid workers - many of them women, and many with no tradition of trade union struggle - have had enough.

They are fighting for more pay. But they also want to be treated with respect for the important jobs they do in society. They are sick of the 'profits before people' business culture, with its bullying managers, that New Labour has injected into our public services. Hundreds of low paid classroom assistants and other non-teaching staff were out on strike for five days across London this week in up to 52 schools and nurseries in London.

They are being joined by low paid workers in libraries, housing and parking departments as part of the fight to win an increase in London weighting - the allowance for the extra costs of living in London. In Scotland nursery nurses, some of them on only £10,000 a year, are demanding a £4,000 a year increase and to be valued for their vital role in childcare.

They are continuing a series of angry strikes that have involved up to 5,000 workers on the picket lines and demonstrations. Hundreds of nursery nurses in Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest areas in Britain, are starting an all-out strike from this Friday over pay.

Poorly paid health workers in North Lincolnshire will be picketing outside hospitals in Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Goole on Friday as part of their series of strikes against the giant Carillion firm. And next week workers at Whipps Cross Hospital in east London will escalate their battle against privateers ISS Mediclean - striking for three days starting on Wednesday.

Porter and Unison branch secretary at the hospital Len Hockey told Socialist Worker, 'The decision at Whipps Cross reflects a changed mood among workers. 'The days are gone when NHS private contractors could just scare staff by saying, 'If you don't like it here get out the door.' We feel a new confidence to fight against low pay and the private companies in the NHS.'

This feeling against low pay will be familiar to workers everywhere who face an uphill battle to survive, and the bosses' endless demands for longer hours, harder work or more flexibility.

Rotten foundations

A REPORT by the government spending watchdog, the Audit Commission, found that the government's planned elite foundation hospitals may fail, wasting billions of pounds of public money.

It criticised the government's 'star' ratings for hospitals. And it warned that some of the 29 hospitals the government has lined up for foundation status have poor management and risk running up huge debts.

The report also said the government had set too many targets, especially to cut waiting lists, which meant that other areas were neglected. It said that many trusts had diverted money from medical equipment and vital maintenance work to pay private firms to do extra operations.

Million still wait

DESPITE ALL the government's targets, the number of people waiting for over a year for a hospital appointment nearly doubled in April. And the total number of people on the hospital waiting lists is now back to over a million.

The doctors' BMA organisation has complained that the government has rigged the target for seeing 90 percent of accident and emergency patients within four hours. The government only met its target for one week when the figures were being monitored.

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Sat 14 Jun 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1855
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