Socialist Worker

Buoyant mood on the Barts health picket lines as strikers win support

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2563

Strikers on the picket line at Whipps Cross Hospital

Strikers on the picket line at Whipps Cross Hospital (Pic: Baris Çimen)


Striking east London health workers have spoken about the big support they’ve received in their fight against low pay.

Cleaners, porters and domestics at hospitals belonging to Barts Health NHS Trust are in the middle of a week-long strike against their bosses at multinational Serco. And other health workers are right behind them.

One striker, Ibrahim, told Socialist Worker, “We’ve had lots of support from nurses and doctors, and the public too.

“We’ve had support from other unions, signing our petition and donating.”

He added, “The strike affects them too. Most of them know that their time to fight is going to come very soon. We started it, but their time is going to come soon and we will support it.”

Another striker, Amina, said the support had helped to keep the strike strong.

“Porters are with us,” she said. “Domestics are with us. Cleaners are with us. We’ve had lots of support from everyone.”

Other health workers explained why they’re supporting the strike.

Jordan Rivera, an occupational therapist, visited the picket line at Mile End hospital.

She told Socialist Worker, “Anybody in the NHS can feel worried if they go on strike. It’s important to let them know we support them.

“It’s all about defending the NHS, and the cleaners and porters are just as important as anyone. In fact it’s harder for them because they work for a privatising multinational—but they’re brave enough to go for it.”

And Sam Strudwick, another health worker, said, “I work in one of the hospitals so I’ve been out on the picket line every morning, and I’ve done a collection for them at work.

“It’s a really important struggle—they’re fighting for everyone in the NHS. They’re not just fighting for pay, they’re fighting for respect.”

Demanding

Strikers are taking on Serco bosses at Barts Health NHS Trust

Strikers are taking on Serco bosses at Barts Health NHS Trust (Pic: Baris Çimen)


The mainly migrant, mostly women, strikers are demanding a pay rise of 30p an hour. Serco bosses want to give these low-paid workers just one percent followed by a ten-year pay freeze.

But many of the strikers also say they are fighting for justice. They told Socialist Worker how their work had got even harder since they were outsourced to Serco back in April.

One striker, Joyce, said, “It’s really hard to work—the agency is always very hard. They’re putting lots of work on us.

“When we have to cover someone else’s shift, they don’t even pay us. They’ll say, clean that toilet, take out that bin. But they won’t pay us for the extra work.”

And Amina said, “They treat us very badly since they privatised us. They put too much pressure on us.”

But the picket lines and protests are all the more angry and lively because of it.

Jordan said anyone who visits the picket lines “can really take inspiration from them.

“They’re so upbeat and enthusiastic.”

And Sam said, “The picket lines are really political. Some of the strikers have talked about what happened at Grenfell and how workers are treated.”

She added, “I’ve set up a Stand Up To Racism group at my hospital and we’ll be taking our banner on their demonstration this Saturday.

“This is a group of migrant workers fighting for better pay and conditions, so it cuts against the idea that migrants lower wages.”

Strikers are determined to win. Amina said, “We’re going to go back to work on Tuesday. And if they don’t agree with us we’re going back out for another two weeks.”

That means getting more support for them will be crucial.

Ibrahim added, “We’re feeling buoyant. Everyone says we’re going to see it through—we’re going to see it to the end.”

Strikers’ names have been changed

What you can do for the strike

  • Send messages of support to their facebook page at bit.ly/2tMx1Uy
  • Join their picket lines outside Mile End Hospital, Royal London Hospital, St Barts Hospital and Whipps Cross Hospitals from 5am
  • Join the demonstration on Saturday, 15 July, assembling at 11:15am from the Royal London hospital, Turner Street, Whitechapel, E1 1BB marching to Mile End hospital. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell will be one of the speakers.

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