A dozen fellow workers attended the meeting, many of us are health workers in the community (homeless mental health, GP services, donor centre), others in hospitals (A&E, intensive care, respiratory, clinical lab), others are active in local health initiatives. We are based in various locations (London, Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham, Leicester, Northern Ireland).
We mainly talked about the current pay dispute and how it relates to the situation on the shop-floor. Primarily fellow workers working in hospitals mentioned that people are angry and discussing the 1% pay ‘offer’, in other situations people were either pretty isolated or sarcastic. So far the unions haven’t organised anything concrete yet where we work. One of us remarked that in the recent past it has been the lower pay grades in particular (porters, HCAs etc.) who have pushed collective action. In Northern Ireland the government announced a 500 pound extra bonus but now it seems it may have implications on benefits so some workers may be worst off if they accept this bonus.
The question came up to which extent the main issue is pay – as work-load, stress, long hours, under-staffing often seems more significant. This also seems to be the case in other countries, such as Germany, where nurses achieved significant pay rises, but could not enforce better staffing ratios. Another friend mentioned conflicts around casual / bank contracts in the blood donation centre where they worked. We talked about the skewed relationship between carers and patients, where the carers become ‘gatekeepers’ for the organisation. The relation between health and class is often ignored. During a possible pay dispute these issues might also come up and should be discussed widely. Another issue is how the hierarchical relationships (doctors vs. nurses; nurses vs. donor staff/assistants; intensive care units vs. wards) will play out.
We reflected on some recent disputes, e.g. the successful strike threat at Leicester hospital against outsourcing of cleaning / portering to a subsidiary company of the trust; or the health visitors strike in Licolnshire. Some of us took part in the pension strike, with mixed feelings. On one hand it was good to see support from other people during a mid-night walk-out when the dispute started, on the other hand people felt that the union did not organise enough on the ground and that a 1-day strike had little effect. A friend reported how they defended mental health services: Commissioners/managers saw to cut a long standing team massively, impose new remit etc. The union/s couldn’t help unless it hit legal threshold – what was proposed didn’t. Local strategy helped interest the public/community which brought pressure/leverage to commissioners
Next steps and meeting
We agreed that we will meet monthly, the next meeting will be on Thursday, 8th of April. If the pay campaign speeds up we can organise ad-hoc meetings.
We said we would feedback to the others about local events, branch meetings etc. that we take part in during the build-up of the campaign.
Friends of the ACG and others are in process of writing a pamphlet about the health sector, we can collaborate and discuss together.
We agreed that it would be good to have a clear structure of the next meetings, e.g. a presentation or specific topic (e.g. the question of ‘over-work’). We will try to invite a fellow worker from the US to speak about recent disputes in US hospitals.
We said we would set up an archive / forum in order to gather material that can be useful in future disputes, e.g. in form of leaflets.