The Socialist 3 October 2018 |
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NHS pay discrimination - militant union action can achieve fair pay for all
Barts NHS Trust workers striking for decent pay, photo Paul Mattsson (Click to enlarge)
Len Hockey, Unite Barts NHS Trust branch secretary (personal capacity)
The recent report on the pay gap between black and white NHS medical workers also highlighted the appalling disparity when it came to pay across all NHS occupational groups.
The importance and urgency for the organised workers' movement developing effective strategies to win on pay, is underscored by this.
Especially in light of the divisive political agenda of the right and far-right in Britain and throughout Europe.
There have been some useful lessons, showing the possibilities for overcoming these obstacles when a fighting lead is provided to health workers.
One example was the struggle last summer by the Bart's trust health workers. Then, 700 ancillary workers employed by Serco in four east London hospitals took 24 days of strike action in pursuit of a pay rise and against precarious working and for permanent jobs.
This strike by Unite union members, the biggest involving NHS ancillary workers outside of a national dispute, was led by militant, overwhelmingly women migrant workers, with Socialist Party members in the branch playing a leading role.
The roots of the dispute lay in the industrial action experience of Whipps Cross Hospital workers whose successful action of earlier years, uniting experience in the mainly white porters with the newly organised African domestic workers, demonstrated in action a formidable, implacable resolve to win.
From a starting point of not being organised, to electing combative shop stewards and then going on to deliver successful industrial action, this became the template for the bigger Bart's strike of 2017.
The final outcome of this particular struggle delivered increases in pay, albeit short of the workers' full demands, and included the ending of 'bank' (zero-hour) contracts.
More importantly, it provided the enduring legacy of organised union structures where previously there had been none.
The important lesson of this campaign in the context of today's developing movements against austerity and the divisive anti-migrant, anti-union messages pushed by the mainstream capitalist media, is that unity of black and white workers in action can lead to concrete gains.
In so doing it begins to drain the swamp of capitalist poverty and hopelessness that racism needs to thrive.