Hundreds of health workers in Bradford, West Yorkshire, began a two-week strike against privatisation on Thursday.
The Unison union members at the Bradford Royal Infirmary are fighting bosses’ plans to outsource cleaners, porters and other support staff. If the plans go ahead they will be outsourced to Bradford Healthcare Facilities Management Ltd on 1 October.
While the hospital would be the only shareholder of the new “wholly-owned subsidiary”, workers see it as a stepping stone to full-blown privatisation.
Ami, the Unison branch secretary, told Socialist Worker, “The main thing is staying within the NHS—it means so much to people.
“The transfer could lead to privatisation, and we all know that means patient care goes down.
"Then other services such as pharmacy or community nursing could be up next for privatisation.”
Up to 100 people joined the picket line as workers lined the pavement in front of the hospital. They waved flags and cheered as passing buses and cars tooted their horns in support.
Ami said the strikers were “very solid”. He added that management’s lies had made them “even more determined” than during a week-long walkout last month.
Bosses initially told workers that they would guarantee their NHS terms and conditions for 25 years. But workers said they had been called into a meeting after their first walkout where management admitted they couldn't make a legal guarantee.
Unison member Mary said management were a “bunch of liars”, pointing out that bosses can change terms and conditions 12 months after jobs are outsourced.
“Our holidays, our pension, our sick pay, and our other terms and conditions—it could all change,” she told Socialist Worker.
Hospital bosses want to use wholly-owned subsidiaries to slash the wage bill in order to make the NHS more attractive for private companies.
Jack, a Unison member and porter, said workers feared the plans would lead to a two-tier workforce. “Management would weigh down on us as much as possible until many could no longer take it,” he said.
“They would then start bringing in new staff on lower wages and worse terms and conditions.”
He added, “The management say it's to improve patient care. But I don't think so. The 97 percent who voted for strikes don't think so. The other staff don't think so—and all the members of the public who are supporting us don't think so.”
The fight against outsourcing has brought in many first time strikers. Alan, who has worked in the NHS for 42 years, had never been on strike until this dispute. “It was really difficult for me,” he said.
“On the one hand this made me think, ‘Don't join in, you've never been on strike, you can retire soon.’
“But the people who would be left would have worse terms and conditions than I had and it's the patients that will suffer. So I thought, ‘For God's sake, stand up, don't let people walk all over you, don't let people abuse you’.”
Workers were set to hold a march in Bradford town centre on Friday to build support for their fight.
Every trade unionist should support them. A win could force bosses in other hospitals to abandon similar plans and push back privatisation in the NHS.