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Second show of strength by Medirest workers
For the second time, hundreds of Medirest cleaners at Southampton General hospital came out on strike on 19-21 January to fight for unpaid wages and sick pay. For some workers this amounts to £3,500 owed since the implementation of Agenda for Change in 2006.
Nick Chaffey, Southern region Socialist Party
Strikers said: "They want a team, but you can't be part of a team if they treat you like dirt. We are working women with young families and we need fair pay and a bit of respect. They want to keep the poor, poor. We work very hard and will fight for what is ours".
The strike has created a very strong and determined mood to stand firm. Of 272 workers, 254 are now in the trade union Unison. Workers from seven different nationalities work in the team.
Unison steward Jo Spear explained what effect they have had: "It is bringing everyone together, all nationalities have stuck together. We've put our cards on the table and the Trust are having to take note. We are still angry at what's happening. Not just the money, it's about respect and how we are treated. Recently we were told they had run out of money to vaccinate staff against swine flu and if we wanted it we had to pay for it ourselves! The word is getting out around the hospital. People want to know the facts. We are standing up and fighting for what is right. We have built a strong union and will fight on".
On Thursday 20 January , 200 Medirest strikers joined hundreds of council workers in a mass demonstration and rally. Over 800 council workers from Unison and Unite held a joint meeting which unanimously rejected council proposals to cut jobs, pay, and terms and conditions. It was the biggest meeting for years and the biggest trade union demonstration in Southampton for decades. The mood of anger was summed up in the roar of approval for a teaching assistant who raised the need for the unions to follow Greece and France and organise a one-day general strike.
The mounting anger amongst public sector workers needs to be turned into pressure on local authorities to use their financial reserves and borrowing facilities to avert immediate cuts. Across the south, job cuts and attacks on terms and conditions are being announced, including 1,200 job cuts in Hampshire County Council. Mass lobbies of council budget meetings are being organised in Southampton, Portsmouth and Winchester in February.
The turnout for the TUC demo on 26 March will be huge. The urgent task will be to ensure this anger is translated into effective strike action capable of halting these cuts.
The fight to stop the closure of the NHS Bitterne Walk-In continues to gain support. Students are continuing to fight the education cuts. In a sign of growing unemployment locally, 5,000 people turned up to a jobs fair at Southampton Airport offering 100 jobs.
Southampton Shop Stewards Network is holding a Fight the Cuts demonstration on Saturday 5 February with support from Southampton trades council, the PCS and other union activists. It will be followed by a meeting to discuss the launch of an anti-cuts union in the city to bring together the different struggles facing workers, youth and those on benefits.