Socialist Worker

Barts hospital deal has left strikers frustrated

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2573

Strikers fought magnificently

Strikers fought magnificently (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Outsourced cleaners at Barts Health NHS Trust have accepted a pay offer from multinational Serco after a long-running dispute.

The Unite union members, who had been fighting for a 30p an hour increase, voted by 358 to 113 to accept a 1 percent pay rise.

There is also a £170 lump sum for those working more than 20 hours, and £85 for others. Bosses withdrew a clause that would have ended collective bargaining.

But this is much less than strikers deserved. Strikers fought courageously in a dispute that highlighted low pay.

But many workers, including those who accepted the deal, are frustrated that the offer falls short of what they were fighting for.

As Unite member Darren said, “The one-off payment will help people, but 1 percent is obviously not enough.”

Management was devious. At the high point of the dispute workers held a joint rally with British Airways and Bank of England workers.

Len Hockey, the Unite branch secretary, told the protest that he understood Serco “are willing to talk to us”. Not only did Serco not come back with an offer, they did not show up to a scheduled meeting.

This led to an impasse. There needed to be calls for wider solidarity action, and more outgoing attempts to connect with other workers.

But one problem was that Unite members had left the Unison union that organises many trust staff several years ago.

They were frustrated with the Unison union’s failure to lead a fight in the hospital.

Splitting 

Fed up and fighting back - the health workers defying multinational Serco
Fed up and fighting back - the health workers defying multinational Serco
  Read More

But splitting the workforce doesn’t strengthen workers’ ability to fight. That is why Socialist Worker opposed leaving Unison—although nobody should support the gloating statements from the Unison local leaders after the Unite strike ended.

Darren said, “The problem is only half came out. We’d have had a better chance if both unions stood together.”

Ultimately the Unite leadership did not have a strategy to overcome this. The union suspended a round of 25 days of strikes after one day.

It then called three weeks of walkouts from 4 September on every other day, but suspended them one by one.

Len McCluskey, the Unite union leader, talks of Unite being a “fightback union” with a £32 million strike fund. McCluskey should have thrown the union’s whole weight behind the strikers and turned their fight into a dispute of national significance.

There could have been protests by Unite members everywhere outside other Serco operations and huge amounts of money raised.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell came to the hospital site to support strikers. McCluskey didn’t.

The largely low-paid, migrant workforce at Barts showed that it’s possible to resist a multinational giant.

They should be proud of their fight. But they deserved much better from their Unite national leaders.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.