Minutes – Meeting 8th of April 2021

Strikes in Germany

We were joined by two fellow workers from Germany, one working at a private hospital with 1,200 workers, they other in a public sector clinic with over 10,000 workers. They talked about the European-wide 1988 hospital workers movement, which remained largely independent from the official organisations. In Freiburg workers went from care home to hospital to community care centres and mobilised up to 200 workers for weekly meetings and protests. These were seen as ‘hospital workers’ meetings, unlike today, where people speak about ‘nurses mobilisations’ – which reflects the deepening ‘professional’ divisions within hospitals.

They talked about the fundamental shift in the health sector in 2004, when a health ‘reform’ was introduced which opened the door to further privatisation. The government also introduced a ‘flat rate per case’-system, which means that hospitals had a financial interest to increase the patient turn-over. Since then the nurse – patient ratio has increased to 1 : 13, at the private clinic even 1 : 35 at times.

The workers’ group at the private clinic started with newsletters and leaflets, independent from the trade union. In 2016 they were able to hold public meetings with more than 100 workers. At the time the union ver.di mobilised for a strike action for ‘minimum staffing levels’ – these strikes were first envisaged nationally, but then focussed on 13 individual hospitals – out of a total of 2,000 hospitals. These were 1 or 2-say strikes, where the union had agreed to a ‘minimum staffing level’ which was actually not much below the staffing level on a normal working day. At the clinic where the fellow worker is employed management agreed to join the public sector contract, which didn’t bring much improvement to workers, which led to disillusion. many workers left the hospital after the strike. The strike were successful in the sense that they hit hospitals in the pocket (postponed surgeries etc.), but had very strict rules, didn’t overcome the existing divisions between nurses and other groups, core and outsourced staff etc. and didn’t leave much scope for independent initiatives from workers. Overcoming these divisions seems the biggest challenge for future strikes. During the Corona crisis there have been actions at the private clinic against lack of PPE (Banner drops, public protests), but no strikes.

We have translated two longer texts on the situation in Germany and will re-invite the two friends to discuss them in more detail.

Updates from the UK

The RCN has announced workshops in order to train people how to mobilise for strike. They will start around 18th of May – it will be interesting to see if these are just top down ‘organising tools’ or more interactive and connecting people on the ground. We briefly discussed the inner contradiction within the RCN of being a professional (career) development organisation and a union. Many people seem to leave for unions like Unison or the GMB – which indicates that the current pay campaign might also exacerbate the union competition.

Workers in some trusts (Bristol, …) have received little perks from management recently (extra holiday, ‘seeds’), which shows that they feel they have to relate to the murmurs somehow. Unison send out mails to ‘be ready for ballot’, but that only meant to check if the union has your right address. Not much else happening on trust level. In Bristol there were no actions of the NHS15 campaign on the 1st of April.

In Birmingham the porters protest against new rotas (as a result of a trust merger) seems muted. Porters of the merging trusts don’t seem to know much of their respective conditions and there is not much talk about the dispute even within the union involved, Unison.

Future plans and announcements

We want to discuss a short platform for the network, talking about our perspective and aims. We also want to discuss what kind of material we can produce in order to contribute to the wider discussion around the pay campaign. People are encouraged to work on drafts together.

The next regular meeting will be on the 6th of May, 7pm.

If people want to join US health workers in a discussion about the current situation there is a Labornotes webinar on the 18th of April. You can register here, the session will also be recorded:
https://labornotes.org/april-troublemaking#directaction

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