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Christmas on the picket line at Barts hospitals

Unite union leaders must help keep up the momentum of these vital NHS strikes
Issue 2885
Barts nhs workers on the picket line behind a banner and holding red unite union flags

Barts NHS workers on the Unite union picket line at the Royal London Hospital on December 4

Strikers at Barts NHS trust in east London were set for Christmas walkouts. These were planned as the next stage of the Unite union’s long-running dispute over pay, safe staffing, rotas and failure to pay the “Covid bonus”.

Workers outsourced to “soft facilities” firm Synergy were scheduled to strike from 18 December until 26 December. They include staff that ensure that hospitals have clean linen and scrubs.

Porters, cleaners and domestics working directly for the trust planned to be out from 18 to 22 December and then again on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

They are furious that bosses have not paid them the “Covid bonus” that the Tories promised to all staff working in the NHS. That’s a slight on all those workers who put their lives on the line during the height of the pandemic.

Pathology workers, once thought of as a weak section of the union, were set to be out for two days from 21 December.

Pathology shop steward Zarina told Socialist Worker that laboratory workers had demanded more action, and that the union has grown quickly. “We reps didn’t think our sections would be out again this year,” she said.

“But members’ strength of feeling and confidence has really grown. There was a real buzz on last week’s picket lines, especially after we surrounded our management’s office and handed in a petition signed by nearly 400 of us.”

Pathology workers are furious because bosses want to bring in a new rotating shift system that will turn people’s lives upside down. They made a point of booing their managers as they crossed their picket lines last week.

“We had a meeting after our strike rally where we heard about how other Barts workers were stepping up the fight, and that the junior doctors were coming out again. That got everyone going.  

“I think us reps had slightly underestimated the anger.

“New sections of pathology have joined the dispute recently—including haematology and blood transfusion, and virology.

“And strikers are now asking, ‘Shouldn’t we be out for longer?’ That’s pressure on us, but good pressure. We want to represent our members’ anger.”

Extending the strikes is an important question. Action so far has not budged pathology management, though it has forced them to step in to do some of the work and cost them extra in overtime payments.

Similar questions are being asked by workers in the soft facilities, both outsourced and in-house. 

Unite leaders must help to keep up the momentum of this vital strike. That means laying out a plan for a victory for all the different sections through escalating action. It also means there must be no settlement to the dispute until everyone has won.


  • Some 300 workers employed by contractor 2gether Support Solutions at East Kent Hospitals are balloting for strikes after being told they will also not receive the “Covid bonus”.

The Unite union says 2gether—which operates at five hospitals across east Kent—has confirmed it will not pay the sum to staff. This includes workers who cover estates, facilities, domestics, housekeepers and catering departments.

Some of these workers are among the lowest paid in the NHS, earning just £11.45 an hour.

They join strikers at Barts —and those in Dudley, in the West Midlands, who were on strike in December. They struck after outsourcer Mitie failed to pay a lump sum Covid payment worth between £1,655 and £3,789.


Fight council cuts in Birmingham

Around 3,000 Birmingham council workers in the GMB union are balloting for strikes as bosses move to implement cuts and job losses. Government commissioners have set a deadline of 7 January for the authority to identify £300 million of cuts over the next two years.

The council effectively declared itself bankrupt in September. The council has no clear plan to settle the £760 million it owes—mostly to low paid women—to settle equality liabilities.

Megan Fisher from the GMB union said, “The council has to present a plan that delivers pay justice, while protecting the services that the people of Birmingham depend on.”

The ballot is set to end in mid-January.


New attacks in Coventry

Refuse workers in Coventry are preparing for strikes after the Labour council pushed new attacks.

Refuse loaders and drivers in the Unite union have already voted for strikes following the emergence of a “fire and rehire” plan.

Councillors want to avoid equal pay claims from women workers by reducing the existing pay and conditions of workers in predominantly-male sections. This includes ending the existing “task and finish” rules for refuse workers.

Unite says its position is to demand and fight for equal pay—but not at the cost of other workers. It supports a levelling up and not a race to the bottom by levelling down.

Refuse workers’ jobs are dirty, smelly and unpleasant and done in all weathers. That’s why doing the job at their own pace has been the norm.


Bus drivers and engineers in pay fight at London Unite

Christmas bus strikes in West London were brought forward by the Unite union after an insulting new offer from RATP-owned London Transit.

Strikes by the 350 drivers and engineers were set to begin on 21 December, as well as on 22 and 23 December.  The workers are striking after they rejected a 6.8 percent pay offer.

This is a significant real terms pay cut as the real rate of inflation stood at 11.4 percent when the pay increase was supposed to be applied in April. The dispute is also over the company’s attempt to reduce terms and conditions, including removing a longstanding £500 meal relief payment and attacking arrangements for how workers take days off in lieu.

The company’s latest offer only included extremely minor changes that did not include an increase in hourly pay.

Furthering the mood for a fightback among workers at the company is the fact that it takes them seven years to reach the full rate of pay, even though at most other bus companies it only takes three.


Vote for Tube action and defy new laws

London Underground workers in the RMT union were expecting the results of yet another strike ballot on 19 December. This latest one is over pay and the 5 percent offer from bosses.

RMT’s demand was for an RPI+ pay rise with a £5,000 flat-rate minimum. But its press release about the ballot neglects to mention that.

Perhaps it’s because this is far more than the union would proclaim as a victory elsewhere in the rail industry.

Aslef is recommending acceptance of the deal. Strike mandates have stacked up on the Tubes. In November workers in the RMT voted for strikes over pensions and jobs for the fifth time.

It’s urgent to end the shadow boxing and put forward a serious set of strikes to win over pay and all the other issues.

And if that happens it could be one of the first battles where bosses might seek to use the new anti-union laws.

RMT officials have said the minimum service laws will lead to passenger overcrowding on the tube and therefore walkouts could be organised under health and safety laws.

All the rail unions need to prepare to defy the new laws and organise mass picketing to shut down the whole network. Other unions should back them.

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