Socialist Worker

Victory that can light fire against low pay

Issue No. 1816

VICTORY. That's the verdict of low paid health workers in Scotland after they took nine days of unofficial strike action. 'We are over the moon with the outcome. This is a victory for all low paid workers in the NHS,' said hospital porter and Unison union shop steward Bobby Reed.

The victory shows that swift, determined action from below can force even hard-nosed bosses to crumble. Ancillary workers at the Inverclyde Royal Hospital in Greenock and the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, both just outside Glasgow, walked out unofficially two weeks ago.

They had had enough of pitiful and unfair pay rates that meant some workers got just £4.46 an hour. Porters at the Royal Inverclyde Hospital were the first to walk out. Drivers, catering staff and cleaners followed them. The action soon spread to the Royal Alexandra Hospital, which is part of the same trust.

For four days workers employed by private contractors ISS (previously Initial Services) also joined the strike.

At its highest point over 500 workers were involved in the unofficial strike. After nine days the action forced bosses of the Clyde and Argyll Acute NHS trust, which had previously refused to negotiate with workers, to cave in. They agreed to give all trust employees a pay rise to a minimum of £5 an hour from 1 September this year. That means a pay increase for the majority of the workers involved in the action.

Management also agreed to pay workers £5.18 an hour from 1 April next year. On top of this management agreed to pay workers at Inverclyde Royal Hospital an extra £300 a year to settle previous grievances over pay and conditions. The strike terrified management. It had a huge impact on the running of the hospital, won massive local support and was spreading. Strikers organised collections. In just one hour strikers collected £260 in Greenock town centre.

When laundry workers at Inverclyde walked out management was forced into serious negotiations with Unison representatives.

As one striker said, 'Management knew they could not cope once this happened. They also knew the majority of staff at the hospital were behind us.' Workers voted by a large majority to accept the offer at a mass meeting on Wednesday of last week.

Some of the workers, particularly the catering staff who are mostly on £5 an hour already, thought that they should have stayed out on strike for the full £5.18 an hour. Some 37 workers voted to reject the deal and stay out for more. All the workers, however, are proud of the action they have taken. Many describe how important it was that they 'did it themselves'.

Their successful action follows the victory of 300 workers at Glasgow Royal Infirmary against the multinational Sodexho. At last week's mass meeting the head of Unison health in Scotland, Jim Devine, said that, along with the Sodexho workers, they had lit a bonfire in the fight against low pay.

But it was determined rank and file workers who, despite no official support from the union, fought and won. Workers know that their fight against low pay is not done and dusted. Unison is still negotiating for a similar deal for the 150 at the trust who work for ISS.

Workers need to keep up the pressure on Unison to make sure that these workers do not lose out. They also need to make sure that Unison sticks to its promise to hold an official strike ballot if management fail to come up with the full £5.18 an hour next April.

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Sat 7 Sep 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1816
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