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Barts strikers defy the bosses’ threats + Go North East buses

Porters, cleaners, domestics and security staff, pathology workers, nurses and therapists are out
Issue 2881
Four Black Barts NHS workers looking very serious and determined. Placards say "Raise NHS pay now" and "Safe staffing now"

Determined strikers on the picket line at Barts (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Laboratory workers have come to the fore of the Bart’s Health strike which this week entered its third period of action.

The long-running dispute involves porters, cleaners, domestics and security staff—as well as pathology workers, nurses and therapists—at several east and south London hospitals.

And as well as fighting over pay and safe staffing, the Unite union is taking up the specific grievances of each group of workers.

Porters and domestics make up the largest contingent. They last year beat outsourcer Serco to be taken back in-house.

Now they are fighting for the £1,650 “Covid bonus” paid by the government to all directly employed staff but denied to many of them.

But it’s pathology workers that have really got management rattled.

Zarina is a laboratory worker and shop steward. She told Socialist Worker that she was “amazed” at how many of her colleagues joined the picket lines last week. 

“It was our first time out as a group, but about 30 people joined the picket and another 15 struck,” she said. “We’ve been recruiting in the labs for a while, but recently people have been coming up to me to ask to join the union, rather than the other way around.”

Bart’s management created a new, arms-length company to run pathology services for several hospitals in the area.

It has incorporated all the individual hospital labs—and now wants all workers to reapply for their own jobs.

Bosses want to implement a new shift system that will wreck workers’ lives.

The attacks have met a fierce response. “Four days before management’s consultation on the changes was due to end, they revealed the rota changes to us,” says Zarina. “It would mean that staff that currently work permanent days or permanent nights will be forced onto a rotation.

“There’s no account taken of people that build their childcare and other responsibilities around a regular shift pattern.”

The strength of the strike is leading the bosses to make threats.

Management wrote to staff with the warning, “If you do not attend a shift that is critical to patient safety… and you [sic] attendance cannot be found cover, then patient safety is at risk and this can lead to prosecution.” 

What nonsense. Workers have a right to strike and it is for management to negotiate appropriate levels of cover with the union. 

You cannot currently be prosecuted for going on strike.

All the unions should throw their weight behind the Barts strikers, and try to ignite similar disputes in hospitals across Britain.

And the battle has to continue until all the sections and grades now on strike win their demands.

Yuri Prasad

Escalate at Go North East buses

Over 1,300 bus drivers in the north east of England are on their third week of an all-out strike over pay.

They’re fighting for a 13 percent pay rise to bring their pay in line with drivers at Go North West.

Bus workers are striking in Consett, Gateshead, Hexham, Percy Main (North Shields) Sunderland and Washington.

The drivers, in the Unite union, rejected a 10.3 percent pay offer by 81 percent on a 93 percent turnout.

Striking rep Sharon said, “A couple of times a week I actually stay at my parents’ house so I’m not using my electric and my gas as much.

“It is hard and I am aware of colleagues that have actually had to use food banks because the pay is that low. All the household bills have gone up and the pay is just not matching it at all.”

Talks between Unite and Go North East broke down last Monday.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham visited a protest on the picket line last Friday where she called the pay difference “abhorrent” and added it was time to “escalate” the conflict.

The walkout has brought major bus routes to a standstill. Go North East has been unable to run any of its services, except school runs, for the past two weeks.

But private operator City Transport Group has been running hourly scab services to areas with no buses.

Workers need to picket out the scabs and push the union to widen the dispute.

  • More than 350 bus drivers and engineers in West London walked out on Friday of last week until Monday of this week. They also plan strikes on 1, 4, 22 and 23 December.

The Unite union members are based at Westbourne Park Garage. They are employed by London Transit and rejected a 6.8 percent pay offer.

Bosses also want to worsen terms and conditions. This includes removing a £500 a year meal payment and attacking workers’ leave arrangements.

  • Strikes have been called off after First Glasgow bus engineers agreed to a new pay deal. Workers had been due to strike on Thursday and Friday this week.

But the 50 engineers have now agreed to a new deal. Members of the Unite union backed the new offer by 92 percent. It will see the hourly wage increase by a minimum of 17.6 percent by April 2024.

Battle continues at Kirklees College

Unison union members at Kirklees College struck for a further two days last Wednesday and Thursday over pay.

This brings the total to six days of action. The strikes were well supported and picket lines bigger than before.

Previous strikes involved the UCU union too. Unfortunately, the UCU members, who have struck for ten days, did not join the strikes last week as their ballot mandate has expired.

Unison members voted to continue their fight over pay and pay negotiations despite the college imposing a rise of 6.5 percent.

The decision to continue was taken due to the college refusing to discuss pay with the unions. Furthermore, college bosses have stated that they will not consider pay again until April 2025.

Nick Ruff, Kirklees Unison branch chairperson (pc)

Fighting ISS outsourcers in government departments

Around 100 PCS union members employed as cleaners, security guards and support staff in three major government departments for the outsourced company ISS are keeping up their pay fight.

They began strikes on 1 November and were set to continue until Friday this week.

Further action is scheduled from 27 November to 15 December.

Picket lines this week included 3-8 Whitehall Place (8am-10am on Wednesday) and 1 Victoria Street (8am-10am, Thursday).

  • More than 1,900 PCS members working for the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) across England, Wales and Scotland are voting on whether to strike.

It’s in response to the driver services recovery programme that rips up terms and conditions.

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