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Mid Yorks Hospital strike: what’s at stake?

Admin and clerical workers at Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust recently staged five days of strike action against attempts to cut wages and jobs. With action expected to escalate, Mike Black sent in this report from Leeds.

To start by backtracking a bit – Unite Leeds Teaching Hospitals Branch invited Dave, a Unison Steward from Mid Yorkshire to speak at our branch meeting on 31st January. Dave explained that Admin and Clerical workers were currently taking five days of strike action against their employer Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, who provide hospital services across an area including Pontefract, Wakefield and Dewsbury. The trust were seeking to cut their employees wages in an attempt to cover their funding cuts which are part of the Government’s austerity measures.

Part of their wage cutting plan is a proposal to down-grade Admin and Clerical workers such as Receptionists, Records Clerks and Medical Secretaries – Band 4 to Band 3 and Band 3 to Band 2.

These are massive cuts to impose on low paid workers.

                             On £309 p/w they would lose £38

                             On £419 p/w they would lose £52

These are cuts that would leave people struggling to pay their rent.

Maybe the Trust thought A&C workers would be a soft target – whoever heard of medical secretaries going on strike? Well Dave invited us to their strike rally the next day a colleague and I went over to Wakefield to show our support and find out more.

At Wakefield Town Hall the day belonged to the strikers. The floor of the hall was filled with strikers and the galleries with supporters.There were a number of speakers – stewards, officials, TUC, lots of strikers, all interrupted with cheering from the floor.  None very political, although one speaker from the regional TUC said that union officials should sharpen up their act and support their members against austerity, with apologies to any present.

There was a great atmosphere in the hall – strikers all fired up and particularly angry that the trust had paid a £3 million consultancy fee to Ernst and Young to be told to save money by sacking and down-grading workers.

There was a proposal to seek a branch wide Unison ballot for action in spite of the possible legal questions. Since then the branch and the strike committee have decided to take this step and now it’s a question of whether Unison can be pressured into supporting them and if not whether the rest of the branch will take unofficial action. Its clear that if the union leaders won’t support the action that workers need then if they are going to win they have to organise it themselves.

The meeting ended with a unanimous vote for further strike action followed by more applause and raucous cheering. It was a moment to remember. I for one had tears in my eyes – one of those “we were there” moments.

I have learnt from the Unite organiser who I made contact with at the rally that Mid Yorkshire Trust have said that the strikers jobs would be re-advertised from 15th Feb. So things are realy hoting up – escalation up to an indefinite strike involving all the workers in the Unison and Unite branches is the surest route to victory. If such action were taken across the NHS then we could turn the tide on cuts and privatization so pressure needs to be put on Unison and Unite to organise it and we need to ready ourselves with a rank and file organisation so that we can take action without our leaders if needed.

In a very real and concrete way capitalists are seeking to protect their wealth by cutting the cost of labour. Profit can be made out of healthcare but only if they can cut wages and soften up an organised and militant workforce first. Our job is to stop them.

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