Health workers at Manchester’s mental health and social care trust have voted to strike against a package of cuts that will mean job losses and a worse service for patients.
This is a step forward in the movement against the wave of cuts that has hit the NHS.
Workers in the Unison union, including nurses and occupational therapists, voted by 92 percent for action.
The action will begin with a one-day strike set for Wednesday of next week and continue with a one-week strike starting on 12 February.
Some of those who will be taking action spoke to Socialist Worker at last weekend’s Keep Our NHS Public conference in central London.
‘I’ve worked in the health service since 1980 and I’ve never been on strike before,’ says June Newton, a psychiatric nurse. ‘But industrial action is the only weapon we have got left.
‘I work in central Manchester, an area with some of the highest incidences of mental health problems in the country.
‘Our management wants to cut the number of psychiatric nurses working in my area from nine to four. That will have a catastrophic affect on hundreds of people who rely on the service that we provide.
‘Part of my job is to ensure that people in the community who have mental health problems get their medication and take it as prescribed.
‘If the planned cuts go through, we won’t even have enough staff to do that – never mind the other important aspects of our jobs.
‘That means there are going to be patients who very quickly start suffering side effects of withdrawal and other problems associated with stopping their medication.
‘It’s going to lead to distress for patients, their carers and for wider society too.’
Lynn Molloy is an occupational therapist in the crisis resolution team. ‘The work we do helps people hold their lives together,’ she says.
‘It allows people to play a useful role in society. My team is going to be devastated by the cuts. They want to double the number of clients that we deal with while cutting the number of occupational therapists.
‘As an NHS worker, the possibility of taking strike action makes me uncomfortable. But it’s the right thing to do. I’m not just fighting for my job and those of my colleagues, I’m fighting to protect the services that we provide.’
‘The argument about the need to strike has been won among almost everyone I know,’ says June.
‘Management has tried to play divide and rule among the staff, hoping that those who aren’t directly hit by the cuts will not support those who are.
‘That strategy has failed. Now the trust is telling the public that there are no cuts, just a reorganisation of our services which will make us more efficient.’
June says that some nurses are so demoralised by the way the trust management is treating staff that they are leaving the profession altogether.
‘There are people who have 20 or 30 years of experience who are saying that they’ve had enough,’ says June.
‘And because of the scale of the cuts elsewhere in the NHS, there are no other nursing jobs in the public sector for them to go to anywhere in the Manchester area.’
Both June and Lynn say that there is some nervousness about the strike even among those who have voted for it.
‘Some staff are worried about how they will cope financially when they’re on strike for a whole week,’ says June.
‘But everyone knows that we will need more than a series of one-day strikes if we are to stop this attack.
‘When you explain things to people, they agree that a one- week strike is the only way to show management that we are serious about this fight.’
Prepare for battle
Karen Reissmann is a community nurse and the chair of the Unison branch that is organising the action.
Karen says, ‘People phone the union office every day wanting to know how they can help prepare for the strike – many of them are union members who have never been involved in industrial action before.
‘People who have only recently become union activists are working with longstanding members to speak to section meetings, answering union members’ questions and helping those who have worries.
‘The mood here is for fighting and we are prepared for the battle. We hope our struggle will inspire other health workers who are facing cuts to do the same.
‘But getting support from trade unionists and NHS campaigners outside the hospital is going to be essential.
‘That’s why we are linking up with the PCS civil service workers and the Manchester Fujitsu workers who are set to be on strike on Wednesday of next week too. We are organising a joint rally in Manchester Central Methodist Hall for all strikers.’
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