Strikes by health workers in Wigan have forced bosses to withdraw plans to outsource hundreds of porters, cleaners and other support jobs.
Unison and Unite union members across five hospitals had struck for nine days in May and June—and planned a further seven-day walkout fromTuesday of next week.
Jack, a Unison union member, said workers were “ecstatic” at hearing the news at an emergency strike committee meetingon Friday. “It's such big news for us—especially considering we got letters just the day before saying we would be outsourced on1 August,” he told Socialist Worker.
The result shows the working class confidence and unity that comes through fighting back—and that strikes are a powerful weapon to resist the bosses. Jack said, “It was good to stand up for ourselves.
“The strikes have brought people together and we’ve made new friends on the picket lines.”
Bosses at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Trust wanted to outsource 900 jobs to wholly-owned subsidiary WWL Solutions Ltd. Their plans were the spearhead of a dangerous new form of privatisation threatening the NHS in England.
While the trust would have been the sole shareholder, they could undermine wages and terms and conditions as a bridgehead to full-blown privatisation.
The Wigan result will put bosses in West Yorkshire, Derbyshire and other areas, who are trying to push through the same attacks, on the back foot. Announcing strikes now at those hospitals could force their bosses to back off.
The deal between bosses and unions was brokered by the Labour-run Wigan council. But it wouldn't have happened without a serious programme of industrial action—not just one-day strikes—and solidarity from across the labour movement.
Jack said, “It was pressure from the council that got the deal, but it was our pressure that had an impact on the council.”
A statement from the council said that “as a result” of the deal bosses “are able to withdraw their plan to create the subsidiary company WWL Solutions”.
The full details of the deal have not been released. But there are signs that Unison national leaders may have made dangerous concessions to end the dispute.
Socialist Worker has seen an email from Andrew Foster, the Trust chief executive, which says, “Although Wigan council is providing some funding to the Trust, we still need to deliver significant savings in Estates and Facilities. We will be working closely with trade unions to identify how these savings can be achieved, but will likely mean changes to working practices, service reviews and a reduced number of staff delivering the services, with staff not being replaced when they leave.
“This is recognised by Unison, with Dave Prentis, Head of Unison nationally, saying, ‘We know that WWL still has tough financial challenges as a result of wider NHS funding issues and we commit to working with them in partnership to help navigate through what will be a difficult year ahead.’”
Foster goes on to thank all the “volunteers” who “supported front line services” during the strikes.
The cuts Foster talks about would hit workers and the service hard.
But strikers have shown their power and should not accept any detriment to jobs, wages or terms and conditions. And instead of partnership with Foster, there should be a push for him to go.
Workers are in a much stronger position to resist now because of their dispute. And if bosses try to bring in any further attacks, workers can beat them back with strikes—a method they have proven can work.