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From The Socialist newspaper, 19 January 2010

Victory for hospital workers

On 15 January, Sodexo workers at North Devon district hospital finally won their battle for pay rises, sick pay, and a lump sum payment of up to 3,600. The new terms and conditions, which apply from 1 January this year, are now in line with the Agenda for Change agreement.

Jim Lowe

The lump sum compensates the Sodexo workers for lost earnings from October 2006, when Agenda for Change was supposed to be implemented. Years of requests from Unison did little to move the Trust and Sodexo to honour the agreement.

It was determined strike action that moved them, with the resolve of the strikers deepening as the dispute went on.

The strikes were well organised and received widespread support from other hospital staff, the public, and other Unison and union branches.

Saturday's rally in support of the Sodexo workers was transformed into a victory celebration.

Speakers rightly highlighted the importance of strong union organisation, which has only got stronger as a result of the struggle.

Unison membership among Sodexo staff has risen from about 80 to around 200, out of roughly 300. The experience and confidence gained will be invaluable for future struggles which, as Jessica Pearce of the PCS union pointed out in her speech, are sadly inevitable.

Jessica stressed that a united struggle will be required in the face of the onslaught workers currently face, which is set to intensify over the course of 2010.

Workers who are employed by private sector contractors still face a raw deal in many parts of the public sector.

Alongside important struggles such as the one at North Devon district hospital, we must continue to fight to bring back in-house all services performed in the public sector, and for the renationalisation of services and utilities currently in private hands.

Only with publicly owned and democratically controlled public services can we be sure that workers and the public don't see wages and services cut to fill the pockets of shareholders and bosses.

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