Hundreds of domestics, cleaners, porters and security workers began a two-week strike at four east London hospitals on Tuesday.
The Unite union members are employed by privatising empire Serco at Barts NHS trust. This includes the St Barts, Royal London, Mile End and Whipps Cross hospitals.
The workers are fighting for a 30p an hour rise. Their dispute is set against a backdrop of Serco piling pressure onto workers from the moment it took over the contract.
Joel, on the picket line at the Royal London, told Socialist Worker, “It used to be clinical staff who would clean the clinical machines and fit the alcohol gel hand cleaning dispensers. Now we have to do it. Before it was nurses who would bring patients’ breakfast, now it’s domestics.
“But we haven’t been given any extra time, just more work for the same number of hours. It’s very stressful. You keep thinking, ‘I haven’t done this, I haven’t done that’.”
Joyce added, “When you’re given more work, you’re supposed to get more money.”
Serco has tried to break the strike by illegally hiring agency workers to do strikers’ jobs, Unite said. And in talks last week bosses made an offer that workers consider insulting.
“They offered 1 percent, and even that one percent they didn’t offer to everyone,” one picket explained. “We don’t know who will get it and who won’t.
“We’ve already gone ten years without a pay rise. After paying for travel and the rent at times there is no money left to put food on the table for my family.”
At nearby Mile End hospital, cleaner Malgorzata was leading chants of, “Low pay, no way” and, “The workers united will never be defeated”.
She told Socialist Worker, “They didn’t make a good offer, they basically just tried to get the strikes put off until after the summer.”
The strike follows a week-long walkout earlier this month. The battle has big implications for the NHS—and the fight against low pay everywhere.
Workers are determined. Malgorzata said, “We are fighting for our rights and we won’t give up. We can’t give up, or the private sector will think it can just do whatever it wants. No way!”
Joel said, “For most of us this has been the first time we’ve been on strike, and we’re confident it will make them listen. This is the only weapon we have, and we will win—if not today or tomorrow then we’ll keep going until we do.”