Around 15 workers walked out at the Royal Albert Infirmary in Wigan at one minute past midnight to cheers from 30 other strikers and supporters. The picket line had swelled to over 150 by the morning and stretched across the front of the hospital.
A worker in Unison told Socialist Worker, "It's my first time on strike—it feels good to be out, it feels like we're fighting for the good cause."
She added, "No one wants to get privatised."
Another Unison member and first time striker said, "So many people are coming together,"
"It shows how much people don't want the privatisation to go through.
"Nobody wants to go private, we want to stay in the NHS."
He added, "Management didn't want it to happen, but we've had a lot of support from other staff members.
"We've got a lot of solidarity."
“After 12 months management could do anything. If they do it to us, that's it for everybody else too."Unison member
Bosses at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Trust want to outsource 900 protesting, cleaning and other support jobs to WWL Solutions Ltd, one of a growing army of "wholly owned subsidiaries" in England.
While it will remain owned by the hospital, the workers will no longer be on the NHS pay roll. They would be transferred on the same wages and terms and conditions—under a process known as TUPE—but bosses could change them afterwards.
Another Unison member told Socialist Worker that workers don't buy hospital bosses’ promises to guarantee their terms and conditions for 25 years. “After 12 months management could do anything," he told Socialist Worker.
"If they do it to us, that's it for everybody else too."
Bosses would also be able to hire new workers on worse terms and conditions, leading to a two tier workforce. "We get 'time and a half' pay for Sundays but they could try and stop that and take away sick pay," another Unison striker told Socialist Worker.
"Management are behavng like they don't give a shit."
After the picket lines, the workers marched up for a lunchtime rally in Wigan's Believe Square. The crowd heard messages of solidarity from Unison branches and unions in the North West and across Britain.
A message from Unison general secretary Dave Prentis pledged "solidarity from Unison's 1.3 million members".
Lisa Nandy, the local Labour MP, told workers, "I will stand with you on the picket line as long as it takes.
"If privatisation is the answer, then you are asking the wrong question."
And she read out a message from Labour's shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth. "These subcontracting companies represent privatisation by the back door, they are wrong and Labour will oppose them," it said.
The Labour Party's national and local support has lifted strikers. But it's right to fight now—not just wait until a general election in four years in the hope of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government.
To loud cheers, it was announced that Unison had called a further 48-hour strike from 8 June.
The workers are on the front line in the battle against privatisation—a win in Wigan can begin to roll it back.
The Unison national leadership should throw its full weight behind the Wigan dispute. And every trade unionist and campaigner should build solidarity for this crucial fight to make sure the workers can kick back against the bosses' attacks.