HEALTH WORKERS from the North Lincolnshire NHS Trust were coming to the end of their eight days of alternate strike days last week. They wanted to end with a bang and decided to take their fight to the multinational company that refuses to pay the £5.02 an hour they are demanding.
The company, Carillion, has plush headquarters in Wolverhampton. It took 40 strikers six hours on a coach to get there from Goole, Grimsby and Scunthorpe. But the long, hot journey did not dampen their determination to make their voices heard. Everyone joined in chanting, 'Carillion bosses, hear us shout, pay up now or we'll stay out.' Other slogans were directed at John McDonagh, Carillion's chief executive. 'Old McDonagh had a farm, ee-i ee-i oh, with a fat cat here and a fat cat there, here a fat cat, there a fat cat, everywhere are fat cats,' sang the striking porters, cleaners and catering workers.
One striking porter carried a placard with a picture of McDonagh and Tony Blair at a posh dinner from the Carillion staff magazine. The strikers have established a deeply felt spirit of unity, despite the fact that they are on different contracts. These leave some without sick pay, others without pensions, and all on wages that just hover above the minimum wage.
Unison shop steward Joe told Socialist Worker, 'We are giving the company a few days grace to come up with a better offer. But if they don't we are planning another eight days strike on alternate days, starting on 11 July. We rejected their last, slightly improved, offer by 80 percent. Since then we have dug in deeper. They don't care what is happening to us, so we thought we would bring the issue out of Lincolnshire and to them.'
Jane, a shop steward from Grimsby, said, 'We have had enough of being shouted at and abused. There is one domestic per ward. We do drinks, meals, empty yellow bags and keep the kitchens clean. We get £4.30 an hour for that, with no extra for working Saturdays or Sundays. I know it sounds stupid, but the teapots leak, and they could scald someone. We have told them again and again, and nothing happens. Supervisors just think we are gutless morons, they never thought we would go through with this strike. They care more about their shareholders' dividends than about their workers or their patients. They go on to us about patient care, but we know what they really think. We are not going to give in.'
Sue, a striker from Grimsby, was wearing a T-shirt with a picture of the picket line printed on the front. She told Socialist Worker, 'The managers are trying to intimidate us into going back. They are bringing in scab labour. This manager told us one third of the strikers had gone back, but I shot her down in flames with a few statistics. Some 122 strikers in our hospital voted against their last offer. 'Just 10 voted to accept it. Only eight people have gone back out of around 350.'
Glenda from Goole Hospital said, 'We have kept it up more than I ever thought we would. They say it isn't hurting them, but it is. We know they are losing thousands from the canteen alone. They are an invisible company - they have no faces. That's why we decided to come to them.' Pat told Socialist Worker, 'Everyone is still 100 percent. We are getting a great response from people and other staff in the hospital.'
Many strikers are fuming about the impact of the scab labour in the hospitals. One striker said, 'The place is left like a pigsty. The supervisors don't give a toss. The health and safety procedures count for nothing and the wards are filthy.' Another striker added, 'It's not just about pay. It's about everything. Part of the last package they offered gave us two days compassionate leave. Imagine - your mum dies and you are supposed to take two days then go back to normal. Privatisation means they keep our pay low to keep their profits high.' Another added, 'They think because we are cleaners we are thick, but in fact we are a team. There's doctors and nurses and us. No one is better than anyone else.'
United behind all-out nursery strike
OVER 200 nursery nurses, parents and children besieged the town hall in Tower Hamlets in east London last Friday. The nursery nurses are in their third week of all-out strike action against the New Labour council. Their fight has been backed by parents.
'The nursery nurses should be properly paid and on decent terms and conditions,' explained Charlotte Browne, a parent and governor at the borough's Harry Roberts nursery. 'I feel strongly about my children's education. I do not want them looked after and taught by people who are exploited and not properly paid.'
The council agreed the nursery nurses should get a pay rise, after putting them through a 'review'. But it wants to claw back some of the money by changing the workers' contracts to term time only instead of all year round. Shahida Choudury is also a parent at Harry Roberts nursery, and runs the women's centre on the local Ocean estate.
'The nursery nurses do a fantastic job. They don't get paid enough for the job they do. They deserve a proper pay rise.' The strike has united workers and parents from all sections of the local multiracial community - white, Bengali and Somali.
The council hopes to sit the strike out until the summer holiday shutdown. There is a growing feeling among the strikers that they want a quick victory, not a long drawn out dispute. 'We want the council to negotiate a settlement so we can go back to work,' says Berta Salvador, who works at Alice Model nursery. 'We want a settlement soon,' says Shaheda Patel from Manorfield nursery.
The key to winning that quick victory is to rapidly step up the pressure on the council. That means winning active solidarity from parents, but also from other workers in the area and across London.
'We are going to keep adding pressure. We are building support for a rally on 9 July and a lobby of the council,' explained a nursery worker.
Paul Robertson and Paul McGarr
Solidarity and singing
'EVERYONE HERE is getting absolutely drenched, but we're doing a round of 'Singing in the Rain', and morale is very high!' So reported porter and Unison shop steward Mike Phillips from the picket line outside the Royal Bolton Hospital on Monday of this week.
The 150 low paid hospital workers were beginning another three days of strike action against their profiteering bosses, ISS Mediclean. This follows on from the three days of strike action the porters and domestics took last week to demand £5.60 an hour (porters) and £5 an hour (domestics). 'We are completely resolute,' said Mike Phillips on Monday. 'And we are filling up the walls with letters of support and donations. We are having a rally tomorrow at midday because it is Unison's tenth anniversary. Every union officer in Britain has been invited to the rally tomorrow and to support our strike. We've had letters of support from Scotland, Plymouth, Hairmyres, London, Royal Liverpool and Northern Ireland. Patients and members of the public from places like Bolton, Rochdale and Birmingham have also lent their support, as has the North West local government housing department.'
The strikers also planned to demand their say at a meeting of the hospital trust board this week. Workers at Whipps Cross Hospital in East London are set to take two days of strike action against ISS Mediclean on Thursday 10 July and Friday 11 July. The Whipps Cross workers have already taken five days of strike action to win a pay rise and NHS terms and conditions.
These strikes, along with that in Bolton, are a sign of the anger against low pay and privatisation which exists in the NHS.
Back the Strikes
Send messages of solidarity, financial donations and requests for speakers:
North Lincolnshire c/o J Koper, 44 Cliff Gardens, Scunthorpe DN15.
Cheques payable to Scunthorpe Health Branch Hardship Fund.
Bolton Unison Health Fund, Royal Bolton Hospital, Bolton, BL4 0JR. Phone 07956 817 732.
Whipps Cross Unison Office, Whipps Cross Hospital, Leytonstone, London E11.
Cheques payable to Unison ISS Whipps Cross Hardship Fund.
Tower Hamlets Unison, York Hall, Old Ford Road, London E2. Phone 020 8983 0637.