A firm at the forefront of NHS privatisation faces a rebellion from its own staff. Workers who care for adults with learning disabilities in Doncaster ended their second seven-day strike in a month on Tuesday of this week.
The Unison union members are battling a huge attack on their terms and conditions after Care UK took over their service last September.
Unison steward Lorraine Cotterell told Socialist Worker that Care UK promised changes would be “minimal”—but “these proposals couldn’t be more maximum if they tried”. "They want to get rid of enhancements for weekend pay, unsociable hours, sleepovers and bank holidays,” she said.
“They’re sabotaging everybody’s lives. It’s absolutely criminal that a private company can come in and do this. If Care UK gets away with it God help the rest of the NHS.”
Strikers collectively burnt the new contracts on the picket line. Accepting them would cost striker Roger Hutt £500 a month.
“I could lose the roof over my head,” he told Socialist Worker. “They want to replace us with people on minimum wages with no experience. We don’t want to walk away but we can’t afford to stay.”
Care UK’s penny-pinching won’t just hit workers. “The people we’ve cared for all our lives would be very much at risk,” said Roger. “It’s abhorrent. Care UK is trying to profit off the most vulnerable people in society.”
Striker Stephanie Jeans is angry that they “were sold off to the lowest bidder”. “Before Care UK money wasn’t involved,” she said. “It was purely about the care for individuals.” Stephanie explained that the NHS previously gave workers training for weeks at a time—but that the equivalent since Care UK took over amounts to “just half a day”.
The Doncaster strike has laid bare the reality of NHS privatisation, destroying services and robbing the workers who pour their lives into it.
Roger said the dispute is “a test case” as more and more parts of the NHS are tendered out to leeching privateers. Workers everywhere want to see Care UK beaten. “People tell us all the time ‘we’re with you’,” he said. “Right now it’s all about us versus them.”
Socialists have been inviting strikers to speak at union meetings and organising collections for the strike fund. Strikers have been speaking to teachers, firefighters and bakers across Yorkshire and to council workers in London and Salford.
They visited half a dozen workplaces and raised over £700 in York on Monday of this week. And £600 was collected on Saturday’s Stand Up To Racism and Fascism protest in London.
But hard-nosed bosses haven’t budged—except to extend by one week the deadline for signing the new contracts. “Some are talking about all-out strike now,” Stephanie said. “That’s a good idea. But there are people worrying about paying their bills.”
“Our job is standing up for vulnerable adults’ said Lorraine. “Now we’re standing up for ourselves.”
FIGURE IT OUT
Care UK’s profit in the last quarter of 2013—up 57 percent from 2012
Former boss John Nash’s donation to Tory Andrew Lansley, who later became health secretary and handed more NHS services over to private firms
Make cheques payable to: Doncaster, District & Bassetlaw Health Branch and send to: Jenkinson House, White Rose Way, Doncaster DN4 5GJ