NHS Logistics: strike ballot against privatisation
Vote Yes to strike action and say no to profit from care
After some months of delay Unison has finally decided to go ahead with a ballot for industrial action over the proposed privatisation of NHS Logistics. Set up in 2000, NHS Logistics provides the health service in England with a huge range of critical products - from food to needles and syringes, beds and dressings.
Over the last few years it has won a number of awards for excellence and quality of service as well as putting money back into the NHS through efficiency and other savings.
Although not a clinical service it is vital in helping support clinical staff during emergencies such as the 7/7 bombings where the Maidstone depot was responsible for providing all the equipment for the temporary hospitals needed on site.
There are serious concerns about the effect of the privatisation and how the search for profit will affect the service. The records of both Novation and DHL in the United States do little to recommend the proposal. Novation has been investigated by the US Justice Department over claims that they overcharged federal healthcare programmes. Where such services can produce huge profits of billions the threat of commercial fraud at the cost of patient care is a real concern.
It would be another step towards the privatisation of the health service allowing big multinationals to cherry pick profitable low risk options at the cost of funding A+E and other high risk front line clinical services.
The ballot will be out in the next few weeks and the Unison leadership is recommending a yes vote. This means that action is likely to be seen in each of the five depots across the country.
This will be the first national industrial dispute inside the NHS for many years. Given the strategic importance of Logistics in providing hospitals with basic equipment it could really have an effect and pave the way for further sectional action. As such local unions and trades councils should be considering setting up strike support groups. Local Keep Our NHS Public and other campaign groups should start to discuss now how best to organise solidarity and support for the strike.
The bureaucracy is moving but they still need pushing.
• Find out more about the action, details of your local depot and contacts from the Unison website: www.unison.org.uk/nhslogistics.
Rank and File Health Workers Organise
BY MIKE FENWICK
A group of health workers from around the country met in Birmingham on Saturday 29th July to discuss and plan a campaign to save the NHS. The meeting was in two parts the first dealing with specific issues around Healthworker, the rank and file paper for union activists, and then a session dealing with broader issues of campaigning in our workplaces and communities.
Timing for the event was fortuitous following a week that saw both the publication of a TUC led programme of action on the NHS and Unison finally moving to a ballot for strike action in NHS Logistics.
One dispute that ran through both meetings was the attitude to take towards the planned series of demonstration and actions agreed by the TUC. No one was dismissive of the announcements but many wanted to maintain a critical approach to the leadership given the memory of past sell-outs and double dealing. It was mainly comrades from the SWP who argued for us to hold back on any criticism fearful of spoiling the mood and appearing negative. It is clearly welcomed that the leadership of the trade unions and professional organisations have agreed to take action representing a big step forward toward mobilising the forces needed to stop the privatisation process.
However the concern remains that despite years of attacks it is only the rising number of protests and demonstrations organised outside union structures that have created the pressure for the leadership to move. The other explanation offered was that only now have the leadership cottoned on to the scale of the attacks and are responding out of self-interest as the reality of privatisation may mean losing members etc. Not only does this wrongly imply that the leadership are stupid for not having seen the writing on the wall before now, but that their self-interest can be wholly identified with our own.
It is clear that by maintaining some independence from the leadership we can seek to develop and encourage self activity from the membership and give them the strength to challenge the leadership when they fail us.
Both John Lister speaking from the Keep our NHS Public campaign and Jackie Grunsell (a GP and a Socialist Party councillor) from Huddersfield presented ideas on involving communities and patients in campaigning.
The meeting concluded with a debate on whether to meet again. Some of the tensions from the earlier debate re-emerged with SWP comrades arguing against another meeting saying it would be a distraction from planned campaigning activity. The majority feeling, supported by AWL and SP comrades, seemed to be another meeting would be useful either to share successful campaigning experience or to hold the bureaucracy to account if the planned campaign starts to falter.
This also reflected a desire by some of us to develop an overtly rank and file movement of health workers that would also deal with issues such as pensions, wages etc areas where the leadership remain entrenched in their partnership working with New Labour.
Whipp’s Cross pay strike
Unison members at Whipp’s Cross hospital recently held two strike actions in protest at the failure of the private contractor that employs them (Initial Rentokil) to honour a pay deal agreed three years ago.
Over 80% of union members at the workplace signed up for picketing duty during the first strike — an uncommonly and inspiringly high total. The strike was agreed by a 95% total in favour, with a turnout of over 50%. Again, these unusually high levels indicate a real willingness to fight amongst low-paid workers at the hospital.
A lunchtime rally on the first of the strike days was held to reach out to other grades of workers at the workplace.
Activists at the hospital - which as a history of militancy following a successful 2003 strike by cleaning staff - said that they were keen to see their union deliver on its policy to hold a national day of action against cuts, low-pay and privatisations in the health service.