10 October 2013
On Tuesday 8 October a crowd of over 150, mainly health workers, mobilised outside the Royal London Hospital in east London in the next step in a battle of huge attacks on pay, conditions and NHS services across the Barts Health trust.
The protest was called jointly by Tower Hamlets Keep Our NHS Public, Newham Save Our NHS and We Are Waltham Forest Defending Our NHS–campaigns from across the area covered by the trust, which now engulfs Mile End, Newham University, St Bartholomew’s (Barts), The London Chest, The Royal London, and Whipps Cross University hospitals.
Hospital workers had already started organising to build a campaign against the attacks across the trust, with a number of angry staff meetings and two protests of hundreds at Whipps Cross Hospital throughout September. A few weeks back, a mass meeting with workers from across different unions at Whipps Cross voted to move towards a consultative ballot for industrial action.
The argument behind the major assault is that the trust is in financial crisis. Meanwhile the Royal London Hospital PFI is costing an astonishing £2 million a week! In the face of threats of being taken over by a special administrator, trust bosses plan drastic attacks on pay and conditions, such as down-gradings.
Perhaps NHS bosses are trying to learn the lessons of Lewisham, where a mass campaign drove back plans to close the A&E. This time round, in Barts Health trust, rather than attempts to target a high profile ward or department such as the A&E, the attacks are emerging at a department by department level.
As home of the PFI, the Royal London hospital is an apt political focus. Tuesday’s protest marked an attempt by hospital worker activists to take the militant mood among Whipps Cross hospital workers and begin to spread it to the rest of the trust and link up with those in the other hospitals where many workers are just as angry. The protest could potentially be a key turning point in broadening the campaign across the trust.
Backdrop: national assault on pay
The context of the assault on workers across Barts Health trust is an astonishing attack on health workers’ pay nationally, announced by Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Health workers from across the country organised and sent a letter signed by more than 80 of them to the Guardian to voice their outrage at the announcement of a staggering onslaught on their pay. The announcement revealed that, if the Tories are left to get their way, NHS workers would not receive any pay rise, not even the miserly 1 percent deemed ‘affordable’ by George Osborne. This attack runs alongside the Tories’ attempts to take apart the NHS pay system, restructure the NHS, privatise and slash jobs and services.
What you can do
1. Already health worker activists are starting to plan local hospital gate protests across the country and coordinate motions calling on their union leaders for action.
Already some are taking place around Manchester, and there is one planned in Oxford on Friday 11 October at 12.15 at the main gate of the Warneford hospital.
If you are a health worker and have/ know of any protests planned, Unite the Resistance is happy to publicise the details–please send to email@example.com
2. Unite the Resistance national conference, ‘Organising to Win’, on 19 October will have a workshop, How Can We Save the NHS, with speakers from these different struggles and plenty of time and space for all to discuss the way forward. It will provide a useful opportunity to bring together health workers to discuss how best to coordinate a response and put pressure on union leaders for hard-hitting action in response to this huge assault. Register at http://uniteresist.org/2013/07/unite-the-resistance-conference-19-october-organising-to-win/