STRIKING NHS workers gathered at the windswept Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow, on Thursday of last week. Freezing rain did not dampen the spirit of the workers, who had gathered to lobby the NHS trust demanding an end to poverty pay.
The strikers sang 'Singing in the Rain', chanted 'Don't trust the trust' and 'We're out because there's no deal on the table', and blew horns and whistles. The mainly women workers had been on all-out unofficial strike for over seven days.
Their strike, and the walkout in Liverpool this week (see left), are the latest phase of a wave of revolt against low pay that is spreading across the NHS. One of the Glasgow strikers told Socialist Worker, 'I am gutted to be out here. We don't want to cause disruption, but we were pushed to the limits - we had no other choice.'
In all 500 or so workers were on strike across ten Glasgow hospitals at the start of this week. They do vital clerical and administrative jobs, like keeping patient records and organising appointments, and are directly employed by the NHS trust. They start on just £10,300 a year and can only increase that to £11,300, even after years of service.
One striker told Socialist Worker, 'I have been on the same grade since 1983 - that's nearly 20 years ago.' Another added, 'People are really shocked when I tell them we earn just £5.19 an hour. As far as I'm concerned it's below what a minimum wage should be.' The workers lodged a claim for regrading back in January. For months they waited while their Unison union and the employers talked. But three weeks ago the bosses turned their backs on the negotiations.
They have told the workers to wait for the introduction of a national agreement called Agenda for Change. That could mean waiting until 2004 for a pay rise, with nothing guaranteed.
One striker told Socialist Worker, 'I am just fed up with fat cats telling us we get paid enough - they wouldn't dream of working for what we get. We joined the health service to make a difference and we have to put up with shocking conditions. A few of the bombs they have aimed at Iraq would settle our claim - there's always money for evil, never for good.'
Regional Unison officials had refused permission for an official strike ballot. But, like millions of others, the Glasgow hospital workers have had enough of being pushed about and treated like dirt.
They held a meeting at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and agreed to walk out. The same day workers at three other Glasgow hospitals had joined the strike. The next day workers at five more of the city's hospitals joined them. 'We are really angry with the union,' a striker said. 'I have paid my dues for years, and I thought they were there to do what we want.'
Carolyn Leckie, Unison branch secretary for North Glasgow Hospitals, is wholeheartedly backing the strikers. She told Socialist Worker, 'We have tried to pursue a regrading claim for ten months now. 'We have been treated with contempt by the employers, the Scottish Executive and some union officials.'
After the early morning Stobhill lobby the health workers went back to picket their own hospitals. Some 30 or so strikers gathered at Glasgow Royal Infirmary with collection buckets and home-made banners.
The pickets were laughing and joking because a security guard had threatened to call the police on them. He said that so many cars were hooting their support it was causing a noise problem! One picket told Socialist Worker, 'After ten months they are asking us to wait three weeks for a review that might not be implemented until 2004! They are paying to bus people in from other hospitals to do our work, and paying loads of overtime. It would have cost them less to settle our claim than to do this. We are getting loads of support. Even some of the patients who have had appointments cancelled came out to support us.'
The local press has launched a witch-hunt against Carolyn Leckie, saying that the health workers' strike is politically motivated because Carolyn is in the Scottish Socialist Party. The strikers are fuming at these reports.
One picket at the Royal Infirmary said, 'Some of those saying we are just militants are the most militant themselves - but for the other side.'
HUNDREDS OF cleaning staff, porters and domestics at Royal Liverpool Hospital mounted the first of a series of one-day strikes against low pay on Friday of last week.
The Liverpool workers are members of the TGWU and GMB unions, and were on official strike against their employer, the private contractor Sodexho. Some are paid just £4.15 an hour by Sodexho. They are fighting for £5 an hour. 'Some workers are not even getting the minimum wage,' one woman told Socialist Worker.
Sodexho was recently beaten in an almost identical fight when workers it employs at Glasgow's Royal Infirmary walked out on strike and forced it to pay up. As in Glasgow, the mood among the almost 700 workers on strike in Liverpool is buoyant and determined.
More one-day strikes are planned in Liverpool, but many workers are hoping the strike will soon go all out if there is no new offer.
Now is the time
OVER THE last year anger against low pay and crap conditions has erupted in strikes again and again in hospitals in England, Scotland and Wales. There have been strikes by workers employed by private contractors which now run many areas of the NHS, as well as by workers directly employed by NHS trusts. In many cases workers have not waited for union officials but have walked out on unofficial strike, and have often won significant gains as a result of action.
The revolt began with 300 medical secretaries at North Glasgow NHS Trust striking last year and winning higher pay. Then in spring this year medical secretaries in north east England struck and won a better deal on pay.
Porters, cleaners and other ancillary workers at Glasgow Royal Infirmary struck against Sodexho over pay this August, and won. The same month ancillary workers at Inverclyde Royal Hospital in Greenock and Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley struck and won against private contractor ISS.
Ancillary workers at hospitals in Swansea struck against private firm ISS Mediclean last month and won real gains. That was followed by a strike vote by workers at Hairmyres Hospital in East Kilbride against ISS Mediclean, which won improved pay and conditions before action started.
Now we have the Glasgow strikes by workers employed by the NHS trust, and the Liverpool strikes against Sodexho. Everyone should rally behind these latest strikes. The same feeling against low pay exists right across the NHS. There has never been a better time to do something about it.
Unions and activists should fan the flames of revolt. Put in claims and push for strikes wherever possible.
Striking solidarity catches mood
'BRILLIANT - a real morale booster.' That's how one Glasgow striker described a 250-strong solidarity rally in the city on Tuesday of last week. 'A speaker from the FBU also spoke to us and promised they would give money from collections to us - he went down an absolute storm,' an NHS striker told Socialist Worker.
Some health strikers toured round Glasgow fire stations as they came out on strike on Wednesday of last week. Alan, who drove them around, told Socialist Worker, 'When the health strikers were announced at Cambuslang station the response was absolutely brilliant - loads of applause and cheering.
'At another station there was a little rally going on. The health workers were invited to speak. The response was fantastic.' The firefighters agreed to join the health workers to collect money the following morning at a big Hoover factory in the city.
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