Healthcare workers in Berlin have achieved gains through a month-long strike. Workers at the Charité (university-linked) and Vivantes (Berlin-local-state-owned) hospitals, organised in the trade union Verdi and the Berlin Hospital Movement, sustained 35 days of action for safe staffing levels and levelling up of conditions and pay between directly employed and subsidiary contract workers.
In October agreements on safe working ratios were reached at both hospitals, including compensatory payments aimed at enforcing levels. It is estimated that this will mean an additional 1,000 nursing staff. At that time the negotiation and strikes on extending union agreements to subsidiary workers were set to continue.
The successes of the strike seems to have lay in the long term organising work done beforehand and the democratic model used for negotiation and decision making during the dispute. These allowed enough resilience to call strikes as indefinite action.
Organising across different hospital employers (Germany has no NHS) started during the early stages of the pandemic, with joint demands on health and safety, followed by limited strikes on pay in late 2020. A further concerted organising drive led up to the most recent strike, including training for new reps, informal workplace discussions and meetings to tease out demands, and a petition used to gauge the support from workers.
Initially the union attempted negotiation over emergency cover for the strike. With no agreement reached, workers imposed their model of minimum staffing at clinics as the lowest level management had allowed in the period before the strike, decided and controlled by workers at ward and clinic level. This led to 1,200 bed closures and cancellation of non-urgent procedures and appointments, putting pressure on employers. Decisions on points of negotiation were taken back to workers’ representatives during the process.
As NHS workers face unprecedented workload, stress, anxiety, and risk to patients, we can learn from the organising methods used in these strikes.