STRIKING HEALTH workers at the Glasgow North Health Trust trust returned to work on Monday of this week after over three weeks of unofficial action. The low paid admin and clerical workers voted overwhelmingly to end their indefinite strike at a mass meeting.
The 300-plus mainly women workers have battled since 7 November against appallingly low wages - most of them get less than £11,000 a year. At its height the action involved workers from ten hospitals in north Glasgow. The strike was sparked off when the trust bosses walked out of pay negotiations that had lasted for months.
That was because the bosses had expected a new deal (a 'concordat') over pay to be agreed with the executive of the Scottish Parliament. But on Friday of last week the Unison union's Scottish health committee, which is made up of union branch secretaries, voted to reject the deal. Strikers felt they could return to work and force their bosses back to the negotiating table.
Unison leaders have also promised workers an official ballot for action if the trust refuse to make a decent offer. 'This 'concordat' offered admin and clerical staff nothing,' explained one striker. 'This deal was struck behind closed doors, with no consultation with us! We were outraged. Our union was fighting for £6 an hour. This deal offered workers £5.19 an hour. That's the rate many of us are on now, and it's not enough. If this sham concordat had been agreed then we would have had to withdraw our claim to get people on higher grades. It would strip us of our negotiating rights, our right to strike. The politicians want to stop decent union members fighting for better pay.'
'We were absolutely right to go on strike,' said another striker. 'This deal would have gone through without a murmur if we hadn't fought back. The Scottish Executive, the trust and, I'm sad to say, some at the top of our union wanted to sweep this deal through. They claimed it was signed, sealed and delivered. We said no way, we're going to fight. We highlighted that it did nothing for us as low paid working women. We have won a small battle, but the war is not over. We have to fight to get the trust to offer a decent deal.'
The strike has been part of a gathering revolt by many of the lowest paid workers in the NHS. Workers have taken on private firms - like Sodexho and ISS Mediclean - and NHS trust bosses. They are not prepared to be fobbed off with crappy wages any longer. The Glasgow strikers were aware their fight was part of a much bigger revolt. There was huge support for the firefighters, with many pickets proudly wearing firefighters' badges.
They also work for the same trust where medical secretaries took all-out action to win a pay rise and regrading last year and where porters and cleaners forced the multinational Sodexho into a humiliating climbdown earlier this year. But unlike those strikes, this time the admin and clerical staff did not have the backing of their Scottish Unison union leaders, who refused them a ballot. 'We faced a double battle against the trust and top union officials,' one striker said.
The workers had no strike pay and had to rely on solidarity collections. A striker says, 'We got tremendous public support. The firefighters' union gave us money, there were street collections and people also visited local workplaces like Yarrows.
'But with Christmas coming up some strikers were beginning to go back to work. We wanted to go back together. We feel absolutely justified. We have kicked out a deal that was full of holes. And many of us are prepared to strike again if we don't win the pay increases we deserve.'
A MASS meeting of nearly 400 low paid workers at the Royal Liverpool Hospital voted narrowly to accept a new pay offer last week. This follows a recent one-day strike held by the porters, domestics and other GMB and TGWU members at the hospital.
They have won an increase of 12p an hour. They have also been promised by trust bosses that the lowest paid workers will be paid at least £4.79 by next April. One worker told Socialist Worker, 'The deal is good for some. 'The one-day strike we held caused management to cough up but more strikes could have won more money.'
Many people also said they need to build on the one-day strike to force the trust to offer more than the current offer.