Care UK workers in Doncaster walked out on a four-day strike last weekend in an ongoing battle over bosses’ attacks on their terms and conditions.
And the workers have stepped up their fight by unanimously voting to strike for two weeks next month.
Care UK’s attack on pay and conditions means some will lose up to £7,000 a year. It could set a precedent in the increasingly privatised NHS.
Kirstine Carbutt, Care UK Unison steward, said bosses recently told one of her colleagues that they would just have to learn how to budget.
“What an insult from a company that can’t seem to budget themselves,” she said. “We can’t tighten our purse strings any more than we already have.”
The workers, who are members of Unison union, have struck for 20 days in the last eight weeks.
Bosses have attempted to bribe them to accept new contracts with a buyout equivalent to 14 months pay, while claiming workers’ basic pay is protected. Yet they make no commitment for how long that will last.
Labour-run Doncaster council privatised the ex-NHS service in autumn last year.
Care UK blame their cuts on the budget set by the council, who in turn blame Tory cuts to local government funding. “The phrase ‘shit rolls down hill’ comes to mind,” said Kirstine.
Strikers have spoken at numerous events over the past eight weeks and made no secret of their anger at Doncaster Labour Party.
Last week three of their local MPs, including Labour leader Ed Miliband, were eventually forced by increasing pressure to act.
They wrote to Care UK bosses to ask them to attend talks with the union at the Acas conciliation service last Sunday.
Kirstine told Socialist Worker the talks were “a complete waste of time”.
A delegation on Saturday’s solidarity demo (see below) from Gwalia Group in south Wales told Socialist Worker they are facing massive cuts to pay, jobs and changes to working conditions.
Unison members at the private care and housing provider voted by 80 percent to strike on Thursday of last week and have taken inspiration from Care UK strikers.
Gwalia Unison rep Alison Blake told Socialist Worker, “We’re in the same boat. They want more for less but there’s only so much you can squeeze something until nothing more comes out.”
By refusing to let new private bosses drive down conditions, the Care UK strikers have put down a marker in the fight against NHS privatisation.
Their two week strike in May is something everyone who supports public services should back.
Alison said, “The way the Care UK strikers have stood up is an example to us all.”
Trade unionists turn out in solidarity
Up to 400 people from dozens of trade union groups joined a strike solidarity demonstration in Doncaster last Saturday.
Workers came from around the country to offer support for the striking Care UK workers in Doncaster.
Along the route people applauded the strikers leading the march.
Mary Jones is retired but worked in the health service all her life.
“It is important that we fight to save our NHS, the Tories are cutting it to the bone,” Mary told Socialist Worker. “What are we paying taxes for if they’re just giving it to these private companies —it’s a disgrace.”
A Yorkshire ambulance worker also spoke at the rally. They were joined by Soas cleaners who struck for three days and have recently won improved holidays, sick pay and pensions (pictured).
Strikers were also delighted by a message of support from Ritzy cinema workers’ picket line in Brixton, south London.