Thousands of low paid workers at four London NHS trusts struck this week in a fight over pay and staffing—and many are out again on Saturday.
More than 2,800 members of the Unite union at Barts Health Trust, Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Trust, East London NHS Foundation Trust, and Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust walked out on Wednesday.
Cleaners, porters, nurses and technicians were among those taking part.
There were huge picket lines, dancing and chanting outside the giant Royal London hospital in east London, with patients, staff and passing motorists showing support.
Strikers there have a specific grievance. Many workers recently transferred back into the NHS after being contracted out to Serco. That followed a successful strike last year that forced bosses to bring them back in-house.
But some ex-Serco workers have been told they can’t have the “Covid bonus” given to all other staff.
The £1,655 payment was part of a government settlement for last year and recognises the hell that NHS workers went through during the height of the pandemic.
Barts’ bosses denial of that cash has created a wave of fury among those who got the bonus and those denied it.
One striker at Barts’ Whipps Cross hospital in Walthamstow said the strike was now about “dignity and respect”.
“They didn’t pay any money to us, why?” she asked. “We cleaners and porters worked through Covid just like everyone else in the hospital.”
And at the Royal London many other workers were keen to show their support for the 300-strong picket line. One nurse in the RCN told Socialist Worker they were frustrated that their own union had called off its strike for a poor offer.
“We need collective action,” they said. “We should be uniting the strikes in the NHS, rather than each individual union acting alone. Coordinated and concentrated strikes make a much bigger impact than irregular one or two days.”
Collective action would stop trust bosses from using non-striking workers to pick up strikers’ work, the nurse rightly pointed out.
Junior doctors and hospital consultants are both striking next week—and again with radiographers during the Tory party conference at the beginning of October. That will be around the same time as rail strikes.
Doctors’ strikes would be much stronger if all porters, cleaners and technicians were to join them.
That’s why it’s good that Unite strikers at Barts hospitals were due back on picket lines from Saturday until next Friday. They should be joined by health campaigners and trade unionists from across London.
The huge anger on the picket lines reflects that which still exists in all parts of the health service. Everyone knows that the government is running down the NHS deliberately so it can privatise it.
And everyone knows that poor pay is the reason why so many posts remain unfilled. That’s why the main health service unions were wrong to settle for a paltry 5 percent pay rise for this year.
Activists in all unions should rally around the ongoing strikes by Unite, the BMA and SoR unions—and push for more.
- Hospital consultants are set to strike for two days from Tuesday 19 September. Junior doctors will join them on Wednesday 20 September and continue their action for another two days.