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Care UK strike is a fight for the NHS
"We're Yorkshire folk, we're like a dog with a bone. We won't give up, we'll never surrender." This is how Doncaster Care UK shop steward Roger Hutt expressed the sheer working-class determination of the fifty-odd Unison members at the strikers' meeting held last night at the end of the latest two weeks strike action.
Having now taken 48 days of strike action in their battle against 35% cuts in terms and conditions as a result of the privatisation of the Supported Living Service for Adults with Learning Difficulties, these former NHS staff voted unanimously to take another three weeks strike action.
Just as 30 years ago the miners fought for a year to try to save the coal industry, now Doncaster Care UK workers, including some ex-miners, see their fight as primarily about trying to save the NHS from cuts and privatisation.
Their confidence has been boosted by the national media coverage resulting from the Observer front page and special report articles on the dispute and the role of private equity companies in the care sector (see theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/09/care-workers-private-equity-targets-the-nhs).
Private equity sharks
Care UK is owned by Bridgepoint, a private equity firm that also owns Oasis Dental, Pret a Manger and Fat Face. In 2012 Bridgepoint's highest paid director got £1.1 million and they paid out £14 million in bonuses.
Public funds account for 88% of Care UK's revenues yet they have not paid a penny in corporation tax since being bought by Bridgepoint in 2010. The debt used to buy health firms is set against profits, often via big intercompany loans with high interest rates, which means that huge profits are hidden as operating losses are declared.
In 1993, the private sector provided only 5% of state funded domiciliary services, that figure had risen to 89% by 2012 as local councils have cut services and outsourced them to the private sector. Private care companies like Care UK make their profits by slashing wages and conditions, and by cutting standards of training and care.
Below minimum wage
It is estimated that 150,000 care workers are paid less than the minimum wage and 307,000 are on zero-hour contracts. That's why the Doncaster Care UK workers' strike is so important. If they win a substantial pay rise and the Living Wage for new staff in Doncaster, such a victory would inspire thousands of care workers to join a union and fight for a decent living wage.
Unison must seize this opportunity by declaring war on Care UK across the country and mobilising its resources to back the strikers. Likewise trade unionists and socialists in every city and town should prepare now to answer the strikers' call for pickets and protests at every Care UK office and Bridgepoint owned company.
Note added on 19 August:
Care UK have been formally served with the notice for the next strike which will run from Monday 25th August at 7am for three weeks, until Monday 15th September at 7am.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 12 August 2014 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.