The fight by outsourced health workers in east London against multinational Serco is at a critical stage.
The Unite union members at Barts Health NHS Trust had planned to walk out for five days—as part of a series of strikes into September.
But at mass meetings on the picket line at the Royal London and Whipps Cross hospitals last Friday the workers backed Unite’s proposal to suspend their action.
They now plan to call fresh walkouts that allow for negotiations to take place during the next two weeks. Socialist Worker understands that Serco is expected to put forward a new offer to Unite in this period.
Unite had held negotiations with bosses on Friday of last week. Perry, a Unite union member, told Socialist Worker, “We were expecting Serco to come back with a better offer after that.”
When an offer wasn’t put forward “the rumour factor set in and a few people thought that we had lost because they hadn’t come with an offer”.
“Perhaps Serco believed, ‘They think they’re going to get something, let’s kick them in the teeth’,” Perry said.
Serco bosses are under pressure from 28 days of strikes since July, so they are trying to play hardball.
Some workers at Whipps Cross Hospital were concerned that Serco would see the suspension of action as a victory.
Workers will have to keep momentum up in the next two weeks and not give Serco any breathing room.
And there needs to be a renewed push for solidarity.
Strikers have already raised money in donations from trade unionists and campaigners.
Now there needs to be a systematic attempt to raise money across the whole of the trade union movement.
Every activist—particularly those in the health service—should invite a Serco worker to union branch meetings and do collections at work.
Perry explained that he found the mass meeting useful because it was the “first time we heard the details of what’s happened at the meeting with management”.
Further rank and file involvement can strengthen the dispute.
The strikes have had an impact on cleaning inside the hospital, but building on that is key to piling more pressure onto Serco.
Solidarity from workers inside the hospitals can give confidence to those workers who are still going in to join the strike instead.
The union said that Serco has been shipping in agency workers in an attempt to break the strike.
Active picketing to ask them not to go into work can help bolster the dispute.
If some agency workers refused to go in, it would cause serious problems for the bosses.
The workers have shown their determination to beat Serco—that determination has to be backed up with further industrial action.