After the insulting 1% pay offer, NHS workers have started talking about going on ‘strike’. We have seen a few strikes by hospital cleaners, porters and junior doctors over the last few years, but there haven’t been many industrial disputes that involved all hospital workers together.
A strike in a hospital is different from stopping work in a factory or office – we deal with patients, not tax returns or rubber ducks. At the same time, we can only enforce our demands if the hospital management and government feel the pain of us not working for them. They’ll only budge if the hospital bosses feel the financial pain of cancelled treatments or money spent on replacement health workers (scabs!) They’ll only budge if the government has to deal with an irate public in desperate need for health services.
We know how to keep hospitals running, despite austerity measures, under-staffing and lack of resources. This means we can also make sure patients are kept safe at the same time as refusing to do other work which is not absolutely essential. The main thing is that we find forms to organise where everyone involved in the work is also equally involved in the running of the strike – from cleaners to porters to nurses to doctors. We have to organise beyond the boundaries of professions, unions and single hospitals if we’re going to win our demands.
Here in the UK, we haven’t got much experience with industrial disputes in the health sector, but we can learn from the past and from health workers abroad. Over the last couple of months, we’ve collected at least a dozen news reports about healthcare workers’ strikes all over the world – and these are only reports that available in English, French and Spanish. You can imagine how many more disputes are going on that we don’t hear about!
In Massachusetts in the USA, around 700 nurses at St. Vincent hospital have been on strike for more than five weeks. Management made an agreement with support workers, which split the strike. They pay up to $110 per hour for scab nurses. In the meantime, health workers in Chicago and 4,000 hospital workers of Allina health corporation also threatened to walk out.
As well as the USA, we’ve seen strikes in France, Greece, Sudan, Uganda, France, Greece, Sudan, Uganda, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Myanmar, Ghana, Pakistan, Spain, Nigeria, Cyprus, Hawaii, India, Germany, Paraguay, Honduras, Kenya, Haiti, Peru, Argentina, Algeria and Mexico. These struggles are over things like: outsourcing, non-payment of wages, victimisation, unpaid bonuses, general civil disobedience, lack of PPE and other resources, contract disputes and pay. Follow us on twitter to get links to more in-depth reports about these struggles