Socialist Worker

St Barts hospital cleaners launch bold programme of strikes for more pay

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2560

Cleaners during an unofficial strike in April this year

Cleaners during an unofficial strike in April this year (Pic: Tom Kay)


Around 1,000 outsourced hospital cleaners in east London are planning a programme of hard-hitting action against multinational Serco.

The Unite union members at Barts Health NHS Trust will begin a three day walkout for higher pay next Tuesday, 4 July.

The largely migrant workforce then plans a week-long walkout from Tuesday 11 July—and a two-week walkout from Tuesday 25 July.

Willie Howard, the Unite union organiser, told Socialist Worker, “We’re planning serious action—it’s not one day, it’s not tokenistic.”

A rally is planned at 10am outside the Royal London on the first day of the strike. Bosses were already running scared before the cleaners were out the door.

As Willie said, “Serco were pulling people into question and answer meetings, but at one of them management was booed off stage.

“Management are very nervous.”

More than 100 of the cleaners at the Royal London Hospital, one of four sites, struck unofficially after a mass meeting in the canteen in April.

Serco slashed the cleaners’ morning tea breaks and told them that they would only get a below inflation 1 percent pay rise every year for the next ten years.

After just one day bosses caved in and reinstated the breaks. Now the cleaners are determined to win a pay rise.

Demanding

They are demanding a wage rise of 30p an hour above the minimum wage.

After the unofficial action, Unite organised an official ballot—and cleaners voted by 99 percent to strike on a 52 percent turnout. This is a powerful rebuke to those union leaders who argue that the Tories’ Trade Union Act means strikes are off the agenda.

Willie explained how they had won the ballot among the cleaners.

He said, “There are 14 floors in the hospital. We have a union rep— who has shown they can recruit—on each floor.

“We’ve done the organising, and cleaners look to us because we’ve shown the union is fighting.”

When unions give a lead, they can tap into a mood of discontent among workers and give them confidence to fight.

Cleaners are showing that through struggle and working class solidarity migrants push up wages. Their fight is for higher pay—but it is also a fight that highlights the Tories’ privatisation in the NHS.

Every trade unionist and health campaigner should build solidarity for their fight.

For details of the rally and to send messages of support, go to bit.ly/2tMx1Uy

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