Government ministers showed contempt for NHS Logistics workers this week by choosing to announce the signing of a deal to outsource or privatise the agency to the corporate giant DHL in the week that UNISON members within NHS Logistics are voting over strike action against the proposal.
With only a few days left before the UNISON ballot for industrial action
closes, all NHS Logistics workers should be making sure their colleagues
have voted YES to action. All the signs are that there will be a big
turn-out and a strong vote in favour of industrial action, but the Government are clearly intent on pushing ahead with the sell-off. Unless the strike action can succeed, NHS Logistics will go to DHL on October 1st.
Voting yes to action is only the first step.
Paul Harper, UNISON Branch Secretary at NHS Logistics South in Maidstone, told Solidarity, "There is lots of anger, but some concerns as members do not want to hurt the NHS. After the Government's announcement this week members are more determined than ever to strike, and we expect a very high turn-out in the ballot."
The Government have already shown that they are deaf to common sense and
reason on this issue. No-one, not even the logistics industry itelf,
thinks privatisation of NHS Logistics is a good idea, yet the Government
are determined to push ahead with it.
Despite union plans to announce the result at the TUC congress in front of the TV cameras, the chances are that the ballot result won't scare Patricia Hewitt much either.
The only thing that will make the Government back down is serious action
- a sustained strike over several days which impacts on the whole of the
NHS, and puts the issue on the front pages of every newspaper. Nothing
less will stop them.
NHS Logistics is just the front line in a war to save the National Health Service. There are threats of privatisation and cuts in every hospital, PCT
and national body in the NHS. Because of this, there is widespread anger
against the government's handling of the NHS, but there isn't yet a
powerful enough movement to stop them. There could be, and we could see
all of that anger and frustration lead to massive support for NHS
Logistics workers when they take action.
We should not be afraid to 'affect services'. The defenders of
privatisation don't mind affecting services, when it's a choice between
service quality and making a profit. They're positively in favour of it.
But as soon as workers threaten to take action to defend the service
from privatisation, they start bleating that strike action could disrupt
the service. Yes, of course, it could - that's the whole point. People
have to know what it could be like when DHL and Novation take over -
because once the service is run for a profit, anything could happen!
Workers in NHS Logistics need to take effective industrial action, because nothing else can stop the privatisation. And effective industrial action means going out
for several days together, as soon as possible, and staying out long
enough that hospitals find they cannot cope. It is better that a few
elective procedures get cancelled now, rather than the chaos of
privatisation coming in for years and years to come.
One-day strikes might seem like a good way to get started, but they will
not have an impact, and we don't have the time to build up slowly
towards more effective action. If we delay, then the Government will
act, and it will all be too late. We must strike straight away, and hit
them hard - then the Government will be on the defensive, trying to
justify why it is prepared to put NHS Logistics at risk.
Sustained strike action is difficult for many reasons, not least the
financial impact it has on our families. But UNISON members in every
other health branch know that we are in the frontline, and big donations
from other branches are already beginning to come in. If we took
sustained industrial action, we should be confident of an appeal to our
colleagues generating enough donations to fund the necessary strike pay
to ensure that everyone can afford to stay out together. After all,
solidarity is the only way to win this fight!
UNISON's strategy so far has been rather limited - long delays in
calling the ballot, which would have been disastrous if it hadn't been
matched by delays in the outsourcing process itself, and a reliance on
lobbying Government ministers and MPs. Those things are important, but
they are not enough - and that's been shown by the fact that we're still
facing the threat of privatisation. We need the union to wake up to how
serious the threat is, and take the gloves off.
UNISON members in every NHS Logistics workplace should be electing
strike committees now, to be prepared for when the ballot is announced,
and demanding that the leadership of the union calls fast and effective
Paul Harper again: "I believe we are going out the limelight a little, we are very small
branches and I think we have done very well with our campaign, I feel
members of the public are taking it all on the chin and just will not
vote Labour at the next election!"
Workers throughout the public sector must rally to the support of the NHS Logistics workers, and stop them being thrown to the DHL wolves. Solidarity, messages of support and donations can be sent to:
Paul Harper, NHS Logistics UNISON, St Barnabas Close, Allington, Maidstone. Kent ME16 0LW.