SOCIALIST WORKER is different from all other newspapers. It does not just report events that happen – it aims to help people fight back. The paper creates a space for activists from the movement and working class people to tell their side of the story. And it lets people know that others are fighting the same battles as they are.
This has been especially true in the recent wave of disputes against low pay in the health service. Groups of workers have been fighting against private health companies’ atrocious pay deals and contemptuous treatment of their employees. Socialist Worker has helped boost the workers’ confidence and let them know they are part of a wider fight against low pay and privatisation.
When ISS Mediclean workers at Royal Bolton Hospital asked for a pay rise to £5 an hour, the company said it didn’t pay anyone that rate. It was crucial that the workers knew this was a lie and that they knew of other disputes where people had taken on ISS Mediclean and won. Porter Mike Philips told Socialist Worker, ‘We need publicity, especially for the people that have never done this kind of thing before. Now that we have had articles in Socialist Worker, and Polly Toynbee’s article in the Guardian, people from your network and the union network are ringing up inviting us to things. I have talked to people in Liverpool and a hospital in Whipps Cross, in east London. People here get excited if they get a letter in the local paper so to get a whole page in Socialist Worker was wonderful.’
Neil McAllister is a Socialist Worker supporter in Bolton. He took some copies of the paper down to the picket lines on Wednesday of last week. ‘The strikers seemed really impressed with the report,’ he says. ‘They liked the article about their strike and the other strikes, particularly the nursery nurses. Six strikers bought the paper and they were passing it round and showing the articles to everyone.’
Health workers in Scunthorpe, Goole and Grimsby hospitals have been taking strike action against another private contractor, Carillion, since April. Pat Wood from Goole Hospital Unison told Socialist Worker, ‘I always buy Socialist Worker when I can, at conferences for example. It always has good reports and information. The first report the paper carried on our first strike and rally was brilliant. I sent it all round the hospital and I even sent a copy to my sister in Northampton. It was really funny as well, with jokes about ‘Crapillion’. It is good to read about other people’s strikes and issues. It keeps us all together.’
Diana Swingler works at Homerton Hospital in east London. She describes how Socialist Worker helped her encourage workers to challenge their ISS Mediclean bosses. ‘We had called mass meetings to say we were getting nowhere with this long campaign over pay and conditions and it was time to put up a real fight. Although people were angry about the situation I didn’t know how confident they were feeling and there was no history of militancy or industrial action at this hospital to draw on. I’d read in Socialist Worker over previous months about successful strikes by contracted workers in hospitals in Glasgow and Swansea.
‘There didn’t seem to be much information about it available from Unison so I got all the back copies of Socialist Worker, cut the articles out and made a little display for the noticeboard showing the history of these inspiring strikes. Then I made a version which I could photocopy and I handed them to people as they came into these mass meetings. I would say it made quite a difference. Nobody had heard that these strikes were going on in hospitals and people immediately started discussing them and whether they could do the same thing. The articles were filled with quotes from the strikers – domestics and porters like themselves, with all the same anger and frustration about how they’d been treated but also excited because they were fighting now.
‘Previously in this campaign, these union meetings were a bit quiet and passive. This time the atmosphere was uplifted and everyone wanted to say something. Each meeting finished in virtually unanimous votes for strike action. Shortly after, people were really proud to see an article about their own fight in the pages of Socialist Worker.’
Chris Harman, editor of Socialist Worker, will be speaking at Marxism 2003 on the revolutionary newspaper, Saturday 5 July at 2pm
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