Bristol Politics, NHS, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

Full #SolidariTea to the #JuniorDoctors

This April Junior Doctors and the BMA are set to continue to escalate their resistance to Jeremy Hunt and the government’s plans to impose new contracts that have been universally panned as being both Not Safe and Not Fair.

These new contracts remove financial penalties for NHS trusts that place Junior Doctors on ‘fatiguing’ shift patterns (and are thus liable to enable unsafe working conditions – tired doctors make mistakes); and unfairly attack Junior Doctor’s pay be reclassifying an additional 50% of currently unsocial hours as part of the standard working week.

BRI picket

Junior Doctor’s and their supporters – led by Kitty Thompson and her ‘Tired Doctors Make Misstakes placard’ picketing outside the BRI 10/3/2016

On top of this, the new contract seem geared to accelerate privatisation.  Unsocial hours payments are often cited by private healthcare firms as a ‘barrier’ to their taking over of staff and contracts for some services, removing them will act as a catalyst for the outsourcing of both.

Furthermore, as Dr Lauren Gavaghan recently eloquently explained on LBC (in a video watched by more than 1,000,000 people), expanding work on the weekends isn’t about increasing emergency care (as junior doctors and all NHS staff – myself included – already provide that) but introducing elective non-urgent clinical work into weekends.  This is the work that private companies love to take on as they cherry pick the most profitable services from our NHS to maximise their money making; and thus these contracts will help increase the amount of services liable for private healthcare profiteering.

For all these reasons and more we must support the Junior Doctors when they return to picket lines in coming weeks.

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Greens including Tony Dyer – candidate for Mayor, Carla Denyer – Councillor for Clifton East – and me supporting the BRI picket 9/03/2016

The next strike dates are from 8am on the 6th till 8 am on the 8th of April, and then again from 8am till 5pm on 26th and 27th of April.

This second strike will be all out – for the first ever time junior doctors will not provide emergency care (which will instead be covered by consultants).

The government is currently imploding over divisions on the impending EU referendum and the intensification of austerity measures in the recent budget.  The escalation by the BMA will put the government under intense pressure (as well as shining a spotlight on the Tory’s gradual assault on our NHS), and in this context could well succeed in forcing another humiliating climbdown.

Tory’s know this, and it is no doubt for this reason that the Tory press has intensified its vilification of junior doctors and the supposedly ‘militant’ BMA.  According to reports, junior doctors are being nakedly politically, are only interested in the money, are killing patients with their ‘irresponsible’ striking and should all be fired anyway (according to the Sun).

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Greens at the BRI picket 09/03/2016

Despite the best efforts of the Torys (and much slander and misinformation particularly from Jeremy Hunt) and their allies in the media, the Junior Doctors remain overwhelmingly popular with the public.  Both the Tories and their press are trying to drive a wedge between striking Junior Doctors and the public (and are going to try to use this latest escalation as a means to discredit them).  Attacks on Junior Doctors and the BMA are only going to intensify as the month draws on.

To defend against these attacks, and support our Junior Doctors (striking can be a hard and dispiriting course of action at the best of time, let alone with the attacks in the press) we must stand shoulder to shoulder with them on the picket lines as they fight to not only protect themselves, but also patient and our entire health service.  The government has suffered a series of setbacks and is looking increasingly weak.  Now is the time to escalate our resistance, to link up our struggles, and to fight back against their agenda of cuts and privatisation.

Once again Bristol Greens will be taking to picket lines across the city to provide SolidariTea (and SolidariCoffee) and practical support.  We call on all trade unionist and progressives in our city to do the same.  If we all come together to support the Junior Doctors they can win.  This would both protect vitally important staff (who are already over worked and under paid) and be a signal victory in the fight against NHS privatisation.  It could also significantly contribute to the toppling of this government.

SolidariTea part 2, smaller

Me providing hot cups of SolidariTea and SolidariCoffee to the BRI picket 10/03/2016

 

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Bristol Politics, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

Support the #JuniorDoctors #UNISON motion

It’s AGM season, and this year I’ve submitted a motion to my branch on supporting the junior doctors in their ongoing dispute with the government over the imposition of unsafe and unfair contracts.

I’m pleased to announce it was adopted with unanimous support.  Viva la Junior Doctors!

Here’s my motion for info, and if you want to submit a similar motion to your own union branch it could help serve as a template or something.

SolidariTea part 2, smaller

Me, providing some practical ‘SolidariTea’ (get it) to the Junior Doctor’s picket outside the BRI last week

Support the Junior Doctors in their contract dispute with the Government

This branch notes that:

1. The new contracts for Junior Doctors proposed by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the government constitute an unfair attack on Junior Doctors pay by reclassifying an additional 50% of currently unsocial hours as part of the standard working week.

2. By removing financial penalties for trusts that place Junior Doctors on ‘fatiguing’ shift patterns, the new contracts are liable to enable unsafe working conditions as tired doctors make mistakes.

3. That the BMA has attempted to be as conciliatory as possible – calling off their first set of strikes when the government made slight indications that it would be willing to negotiate, a willingness that was later proven unfounded, and that the BMA hasn’t felt forced to strike in over 40 years.

4. Following implementation of The Health and Social Care Act (2012), over £7 billion of NHS contracts have been issued to private providers.

5. The rate of privatisation increased by 500% from 2013/14 to 2014/15, when over £3.5 billion of contracts issued to private providers in 2014/15.

 This branch believes that:

1. The attack on the unsocial hours of Junior Doctors is a prelude to what Jeremy Hunt and the department of health has in store for all NHS workers.

2. That should Jeremy Hunt succeed in imposing these new contracts on Junior Doctors similar contractual arrangements (removing unsocial hours payments) will soon be imposed on the rest of the NHS workforce.

3. That the NHS is under attack from a Tory government that is ideologically determined to see the public health service further marketised and run in the interests of profit

4. That the cost of unsocial hours payments makes most NHS staff unattractive to private health companies, and that removing them will greatly accelerate the outsourcing of staff and the privatisation of our health service.

 This Branch resolves to:

1. To issue a public statement of support to Junior Doctors taking part in industrial action at Southmead Hospital, and around Bristol and elsewhere

2. To work with the Bristol Trades Union Council and local BMA Reps to provide practical support where requested.

3. To send at least one branch officer to support the picket lines on strike days and encourage as many others to do the same as possible

4. To publicise the issues of the dispute to our membership via email and any other appropriate channels and encourage members to support the strike and the picket where possible.

5. To invite a BMA Rep to speak about the dispute at our next branch meeting.

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics, NHS, Protests, Railways, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes, Uncategorized

The Green Heart of #Bristol’s #SocialMovements

I joined the Green Party back in October 2014 at the start of the ‘Green surge’. I’d became increasingly aware that they were the only party consistently talking about restructuring the economy in the interests of everyone to tackle not only climate change but also the spiralling inequality infecting our society.

Within a month I’d been co-opted into being the parties Trade Union Liaison Officer, and was busy organising support and ‘Solidari-Tea’ for the NHS strike that winter. Me and my colleagues in 13 different unions across the NHS were striking after the government refused to give us even the miserly 1% pay rise recommended by its own pay review board. After more than 6 years of a freeze on NHS pay, things are becoming increasingly tough for more and more health workers. Green comrades got up at the crack of dawn and came to join me and other staff on the picket lines bringing flasks of hot Soladari-Tea and coffee for everyone (very appreciated on a bitterly cold winters morning). The hot drinks and support helped contribute to the vibrant hopeful mood of the picket, and I knew I had found my political home.

In the little over a year I’ve been involved with the local party since then it has consistently put itself at the heart of movements for social justice across Bristol.

Anna on Workers Memorial Day

Green councillor Anna McMullan highlighting the plight of Bangladeshi Garment workers at the International Workers Memorial Day event in Bristol April 2015

We’ve brought Solidari-Tea to picket lines across the city. Joining the men and women of the FBU striking against unfair and unsafe pensions that would see 60 year old running into burning buildings, and the RMT fighting to protect jobs and services on the new Inter-City express trains. Most recently we’ve been out in force to support Junior Doctors fighting against unfair and unsafe contracts that could see them working more than 70 hours a week without unsocial pay enhancements for working on Saturdays or into the night.

junior doctors carla NHS

Junior Doctors and their supporters (including Green councillor Carla Denyer front and centre) picketing outside the BRI

We’ve sent support to workers at the sharpak Yate food processing factory fighting against the imposition of longer contracts, to teachers at the Winterborne academy fighting against unmanageable workloads and bullying management, to staff demanding their fair share from wage stealing bosses at Café Amore and much more.

Action for Rail

Greens campaigning for the Public Ownership of Rail at Temple Meads in Feburary 2015

We’ve joined the Bristol Trades Council in campaigns for the Living Wage, worked with Bristol Stop the War to build opposition to the bombing of Syria, and have been at the heart of the Bristol People’s Assembly and its resistance to cuts and austerity. We’ve taken to the streets to call for the public ownership of our railways with the Action for Rail group, and campaigned against the exploitative practices of rogue landlords and letting agents through ACORN the Community Union.

 

Rob ACORN

Green councillor Rob Telford at an ACORN picket of Tobie Holbrock who was refusing to repair unacceptable mould in his rental properties

Its been my great honour to be at the centre of most of this activity, but it was my leading role in organising the Bristol rally against the Trade Union Bill last November that was one of the most fulfilling actions. This brought Greens, trade unionist and members of the local Labour Party together with hundreds of ordinary Bristolians for a rally and demonstration in the fountains against the draconian bill, and imbued us with the spirit to resist these unjust laws.

 

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Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike against the TU Bill, with me and Green comrades in the background. November 2015

Unlike the Labour party that won’t support strikes because it thinks it has to appear to be neutral to look like a party of government, the Green party is unashamed in its support of ordinary people trying to protect their rights and improve their lives.  Just as it is unashamed of its support for all groups trying to enact positive social change. On picket lines, marches and demonstrations across our city the Greens are an increasingly regular and prominent fixture. Both in the council and in the streets of our city the Bristol Green party is taking a bold stand for people and planet, and I’m proud to be a part of it

Bristol Greens marching

Bristol Greens joining the thousands braving the wet weather for the Bristol Climate March last November.

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Some of the Greens at the Bristol People’s March for the NHS 2015

protect our human rights act

Greens protesting government plans to Scrap the Human Rights act and other things at the Bristol Makes Some Noise against austerity protest last year

Some videos: –
me speaking at the Don’t Bomb Syria rally-  https://www.facebook.com/BristolPeoplesAssembly/videos/1678031245741863/~

Anna speaking at ‘How do we Stop the Tories in their Tracks’ –

Green Party deputy leader Shahrar Ali speaking at the Scrap Trident rally –

 

 

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Bristol Politics, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes, Uncategorized

Why we need unions! #HeartUnions

Alice Right to Strike

We are often told that unions have become irrelevant to modern society, or worse that they are in some way negative.

No institution is perfect, but trade unions do amazing work standing up for their members in the workplace and increasingly in the community (see for example the role unions played locally in helping block the environmentally and medically damaging biomass facility in Avonmouth).  Many of us are given negative perceptions of trade unions because of how they are portrayed in the press (usually only ever mentioned if they’ve been forced into industrial action and then only described as militants needlessly causing trouble) and the legacy of the 1970s.

People who are against unions often argue that in the past ‘over mighty union barons’ ‘held the country to ransom’ and would strike ‘at the drop of a hat’. There may be some small germs of truth in this, but this is a gross exaggeration and is in part the result of attempts to undermine the legitimacy of unions and collective action.  Even if this had been the case the situation in modern Britain is so far removed it makes such comparison meaningless.

Today union membership is at a historic low (though it has moderately increased in recent years), as is the power and influence of unions in our society.  They’re even marginalised in the Labour party these days (though this could change under Corbyn).  We already have some of the most restrictive trade union laws in the ‘democratic’ world which are about to get even more restrictive with the governments draconian new strike legislation, making union action very difficult.  Furthermore, no worker ever takes the decision to strike and lose pay lightly (especially with the financial hardship of recent years), and with unions so comparatively weak and increasingly defensive the situation has to be pretty bad before they feel forced to resort to striking.

The decline of union power seen in terms of membership and coverage of collective bargaining agreements

This has been the nature of the industrial action I have been involved in as a steward and branch officer for my hospital’s branch of UNISON.  Continued pay freezes and rises below inflation have seen the value of NHS pay fall by between 10-16% since 2008.  At the same time Government policies – like cuts to community care and other public services – have led to a huge increase in hospital usage (by 10% between 2013 and 2014 alone), whilst we have lost 35,000 staff (and 10,000 beds) since 2010.  Those of us who are left are doing more work, for less money, whilst our pensions are attacked (we pay more in each year, for more years, and get less out at the end) in a health service with an increasingly insecure looking future.

Yet it still took until the winter of 2014 for our unions to decide enough is enough and resort to nationwide strike action.  Even then it was only two 4 hour strikes over two months (and the threat of further action), as they wanted to minimize the impact on patients and were scared of being portrayed as too militant in the press.  A far cry from the irresponsible militant image peddled by the Government and mainstream media.

My above example also highlights the pivotal role unions still continue to play in protecting the interests and wages of their members at work.  By actively asserting the rights of employees to the fruits of their own labour they can act to restrain excessive pay at the top.  Stronger unions advancing the interests of their members provided a strong check on the growth of inequality (which has exploded since the 1980s).  In the 1970s the richest 1% in the UK owned around 5% of all wealth.  Today the richest 1% own more than 15% of all of the wealth in Britain.

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The decline of union power was just one of many factors that have seen Britain experience the fastest growth in inequality of any OECD country.  But we should not ignore the important role unions can and do play in the fight against inequality.  Rebuilding the union movement expanding into the precarious industries like social care, temping agencies call centers etc, and giving it the confidence to fight, could go a long way checking the insecurity and low wages so emblematic of work in modern Britain.  It’s doing it that’s the hard thing.

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As the number of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements negotiated by unions has fallen – the pale blue line) income inequality has increased exponentially

That’s why we need to ensure all of us active in political and social movements not only join but also get active in unions in our workplaces.  And if there isn’t one, try and set one up (a hard task alone but local unions and trades councils and unions already organising in that industry elsewhere will be only too happy to help you).  We also need to encourage as many of our coworkers, friends and people we know in general to do likewise.

Unions have always had a larger social role beyond the ‘bread and butter’ issues of jobs and wages. Time and time again their financial and organisational support has been essential for the success of campaigns from the fight to win the vote for men and women to the anti-war and the now the anti-asuterity movement. Increasingly through initiatives like the Campaign Against Climate Change and A Million Climate Jobs Now unions are getting involved in the central challenge of our time; the fight to stop global warming and the destruction of the habitability of our planet.

As individuals we are almost powerless to overcome the status quo and effect change in our society.  But collectively we are strong.  Unions allow us to come together to stand up for ourselves and provide an organisational structure for that collective strength. For all these reasons and more, we need unions and we have to work together to defend them, especially in light of the government’s most recent attack.

Next week the TUC will be launching its #HeartUnions campaign to highlight the amazing work trade unions do in our society.
There’s a fair bit going on in Bristol.  The Trades Council has a list of some of this activity.  If you can, make sure you get involved:

https://bristoltradesunioncouncil.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/heartunions-get-involved/

love unions week

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NHS, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

#NHS execs speak out against #TUBill #KillTheBill

At my UNISON branch meeting this month we were discussing the impact of the end of ‘DOCAS/Check-off’ (the process of taking trade union subscription fees directly from wages) on our local union membership.

Afterwards our secretary forwarded me this email of 32 NHS directors and executives emailing government minister Matthew Hancock outlining their support for the current arraingments.

The more alarming parts of the bill like enforced arm bands for picketers (or massive fines), and (the now scrapped) clause to force trade unions to send all their facebook and twitter messages during a dispute to the police two weeks in advance, and the hugely undemocratic voting thresholds have understandably taken most of the focus when its discussed.

But (as well as the attacks on facility time and the legal obsticles it places at every level of organising) it is the financial aspects of the bill that will probably have the biggest day to day impact on our unions.  This bill also seriously hamstrings the ways unions are funded (and their ability to fund opposition to the Conservatives).  As such I thought it was worth reprinting the NHS directors letter out in full below.

As it shows these changes are not only completely unneccessary but are also against the wishes of employers who get tangible benefits from the current payment system, and recognise this nakedly political assault on unions ability to organise will have negative ramifications for working relations.

The bill may have passed through the commons, but it has not become law yet.  We need to lobby and put pressure on the Lords and the Government to try and stop as much of this bill as possible.  And if it does make it to law, we need to do what we can to circumvent it.  Unjust laws must be opposed.

Over the week of 8th to 14th of Feburary the TUC is organising a national week of action against the bill.  Find out whats going on in your area or organise something yourself through your union and trades council and get involved.  Together we can beat this.
https://www.tuc.org.uk/union-issues/trade-union-bill/heartunions-week-8-14-february-2016

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike against the TU Bill, with me and Green comrades in the background.  November 2015

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike against the TU Bill, with me and Green comrades in the background. November 2015

 

7th October, 2015

 

 

The Rt. Hon. Matthew Hancock, MP,

Minister for the Cabinet Office

   & Paymaster General,

Cabinet Office,

70 Whitehall,
London, SW1A 2AS

 

Also by email to: matthew.hancock.mp@parliament.uk

 

 

 

Dear Sir,

 

Public Sector Check-Off

 

We write as a group of public sector HR Directors in relation to the recent announcement about deducting trade union subscriptions through salaries.

 

You will appreciate these are challenging times across the public sector with significant challenges ahead and this will involve significant consultation and negotiation with trade unions.  We have worked with trade unions over the last few years often in partnership arrangements both locally and nationally (such as the National Social Partnership Forum in Health) to bring about change.  These discussions require good will and transparency on both sides.  Although we understand the government will want to explore all elements of cost avoidance (as we do), we want to highlight the cost savings we achieve through effective consultation and communication with and through trade unions.  It is also helpful for us to easily understand our union density, particularly when we work with multiple trade unions.

 

We believe the announcement on deductions will challenge and change relationships and the partnership approach many of us have worked to develop and ask that you consult extensively with employers about the potential impact before taking a final decision.

 

Effective relationships with trade unions will help us expedite the changes we need to make in ways that minimise the disruption to patients and service users.

 

Yours faithfully,

Dean Royles,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

 

Anita Pisani,
Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Workforce and Service Re-Design,
Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust

 

Susan Tyler,
Director of Workforce Development,
Leeds and York Partnership NHS Trust

 

Marie Fosh,
Director of Workforce & Transformation,
Lincolnshire Community Health Services NHS Trust

 

Ros Edwards,
Director of HR and OD,
The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals

 

Amanda Oates,
Executive Director of Workforce,
Merseycare NHS Trust

 

Jon Restell,
Chief Executive,
Managers in Partnership (MiP)

 

Bernard Scully,
Director of Human Resources,
Mid-Essex Hospital

 

Jeff Crawshaw,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Colchester Hospital

 

Ruth McAll,
Interim Director of Human Resources,
East of England Ambulance Service

 

Ian Crich,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Trust

 

Ann McIntyre,
Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

 

Jon Lenney,
Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust

 

Tracy Hill,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Isobel Clements,
Director of People,
Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust

Mark Appleby,
Director of Human Resources,
Yeovil NHS Trust

 

Tracey Cottam,
Director of Transformation and Organisational Development,
Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust

 

Colin Hague,
Director of Human Resources,
Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust

 

Carol Sparks,
Director of Organisational Development and Human Resources,
2gether NHS Foundation Trust

 

Jenny Turton,
Head of Human Resources,
Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust

 

Darran Armitage,
Interim Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
Devon Partnership NHS Trust

 

Mark Warner,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Dorset County Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

 

Tina Ricketts,
Director of Human Resources,
Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Foundation Trust

 

Dave Smith,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

 

Oonagh Fitzgerald,
Director of Workforce and Education,
Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

 

Paul Jones,
Interim Director of Human Resources,
North Bristol NHS Trust

 

Darryn Allcorn,
Director of Human Resources,
Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust

 

Martin Bamber,
Deputy Director of Human Resources,
Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust

 

Charles Summers,
Director of Engagement and Development,
NHS Dorset CCG

 

Marianne King,
Head of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
NHS Somerset CCG

 

Martin Ringrose,
Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

 

Emma Wood,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
South Western Ambulance Services NHS Foundation Trust

 

Sheridan Flavin,
Director of Human Resources,
Weston Area NHS Trust

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Bristol Politics, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

#Bristol #KillTheBill – #NHS #Right2Strike Speech

Bristol KillTheBill protesters send their solidarity to victimised UNISON steward Sandy Nicole

Bristol KillTheBill protesters send their solidarity to victimised UNISON steward Sandy Nicole

Green Party mayoral candidate Tony Dyer gives an impassioned speech against the bill

Green Party mayoral candidate Tony Dyer gives an impassioned speech against the bill

Tonight in Bristol we had a very inspiring rally against the Trade Union bill with some rousing speeches from people across the movement.  I’d been asked to speak and had prepared a short piece on our NHS strike last year, but in the end there wasn’t time so I thought I’d put it on here so it didn’t go to waste.

My friends I wanted to speak tonight about the strike we had in the NHS over pay last winter, and how this draconian anti-democratic Trade Union bill would have effected it and me and my fellow NHS workers.

The NHS and its staff have taken a hammering since the Conservatives first got in with their Lib Dem enablers back in 2010.  Putting aside the backdoor privatisation and the continual outsourcing of staff and services – which is undermining the very foundation of the NHS and is a huge drain on resources – times for NHS workers are bleak.

Between 2010-214 we lost around 35,000 NHS staff (including around 7000 front-line nurses).  At the same time hospital usage is continually going up, by 10% between the winter of 2013 and 2014 alone.  This is because cuts to social care and care in the community are forcing into hospitals more and more people who would have been kept well at home.  Less and less staff are being asked to do more and more work.  All the while our pensions have been attacked (we now pay in more each year, for more years, and get less out at the end) and we haven’t had an above inflation pay rise since the reckless gambling of the banks crashed the economy back in 2008, reducing real incomes by up to 10%.

Even with all this, it wasn’t until last winter that enough was enough and our unions felt able to go on strike after the government refused to give us a 1% pay rise (whilst MPs gave themselves an 11% raise).  NHS workers are not militant by nature.  This was the first national NHS strike since 1982. None of us got into this line of work to get rich (over 77,000 of us didn’t even get the living wage before the strike – me included – and many staff have had to resort to food banks to survive), but to care for people.  This duty of care makes staff feel uneasy taking action, and is why unlike most strikes we try to cause as least disruption as possible to essential services.

As a result of our action the government came back to the negotiating table with a new offer.  It wasn’t perfect (excluding staff at the top of the pay scale from the pay rise), but it did give a 1% rise to most staff, and staff on the bottom of the pay scale like me received a raise of up to 5%. A 5% raise hasn’t been revolutionary in my life, but it has had a significant impact on helping me cope with the continual spiralling cost of the basic necessities of life.  This is one of the many reasons we need unions.  They’re our voice at work and stand up for our interests across society.

If this bill had been in place our strike simply could not have happened. The new law puts a 50% minimum turnout threshold on all strike ballots.  But because the NHS is an ‘essential’ public service a minimum of 40% of all members of the union must vote yes for the strike to go ahead.  On a 50% turnout that would mean you’d need 80% of staff to vote yes.  Almost impossible in an industry with over 1 million staff in vastly geographically dispersed workplaces.

Even if we did manage to strike, the new law would have allowed hospitals to replace us with agency staff, making action pointless (and possibly endangering lives of patients).  This isn’t even the most ridiculous part of the bill, which would make picketers wear armbands (or face a £20,000 fine) and force unions to inform police of all strike related communications (including facebook and twitter) two weeks in advance (not to mention attacks on facility time, and the financial basis of unions).

This is a full on assault on our ability to organise to defend our interests at work and resist the Conservative austerity drive that is so impoverishing both our communities and our planet.  It is a travesty, a partisan attack motivated only by the desire to clampdown on resistance to the Conservative attacks on ordinary people and our welfare state.

We have to unite to resist the passage of this bill, and should it become law, work together to defeat it.  If this bill becomes law, we need to be prepared to break that law to defend our interests, and we need the whole movement to rally behind any union that does so.  Only together can we overcome.  Thank you for listening to me, and thank you all for coming out to support this demonstration this evening. You all give me hope that this isn’t over, and together we can win.  Solidarity!

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike, with me and Green comrades in the background

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike, with me and Green comrades in the background

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Bristol Politics, Railways, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

RMT Union First Great Western strike to protect jobs services and safety

network-rail-dispute-2015

On Wednesday the 8th of July at 6:30pm, railway staff organised in The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) across the First Great Western franchise started a 48 hour strike over the threatened loss of safety, services and jobs on the new Hitachi Intercity Express Trains.  The new high-speed Hitachi trains are replacing the old diesel powered fleet that has serviced the South West since the 1970s. The main cause of friction is First Great Western’s decision to remove the train guard and buffet cart (and catering staff) and run driver only trains, as well as a reduction in station dispatch and maintenance staff (and the potential outsourcing of train maintenance).  All of which will reduce the cost of running the services and increase First’s profits.  On the other side of the equation passengers will receive a reduced level of service, with much depressed safety standards, whilst skilled staff are tossed to one side and thrown into unemployment (a daunting prospect in austerity Britain).

These new trains are being rolled out on both the First Great Western and East Coast Mainline franchises.  Along the East Coast Mainline there is no dispute and no strike; as the franchise operator isn’t attacking jobs and services to further engorge their own profits.  First Great Western on the other hand has no such scruples.  Something the mainstream press coverage of the dispute seemingly forgets.  Whilst the Tory press screams about out of touch union militants bringing the country to a standstill and the BBC attempts to trivialise the whole episode into one of commuter disruptions devoid of context; just remember these are workers striking and losing two days’ worth of pay predominantly to protect safety standards for passengers as well as their own jobs.

Obviously the disruption caused to commuters is an annoyance, but it is to protect those very commuters that is motivating these workers to strike.  Left to their own devices First Great Western will gouge passengers for everything they have. An open return between Bristol and London has increased in price by 246% since privatisation 20 years ago (far far in excess of inflation).  At the same time railways as a whole have seen their subsidy from the taxpayer more than double; between 2011-2014 First Great Western alone received £959.8 million.  Passengers are paying the most expensive fares in Europe (and the tax payer’s coughing up huge sums) for substandard services, whilst the First Group makes huge profits and their chairman has increased his pay by 243% in the last 4 years (to £1.6 million).  No wonder they don’t think they can afford to pay for safety critical train guards and maintenance staff (and for a catering service to standard class passengers) when their chairman’s taking such a huge kickback.

With such obvious injustices leading to this dispute I went down to the RMT’s Bristol branch meeting that Wednesday night (after the People’s Assembly budget protest), to pass on the local party’s solidarity and speak a little about the centrality of the railways in our plans for a fairer sustainable society.  I was very well received (quiet charitably too as I did not speak my best, and definitely should have prepared something to say a lot more), even more so when I passed on a £60 donation from the Peoples Assembly to support the pickets.  This was money collected at the budget protest from ordinary Bristolians eager to support the striking workers (I made a very short speech on the megaphone outlining the causes of the dispute and the need to show solidarity, and was mobbed by people keen to help).

RMT members enjoying a hot cup of Solidari-Tea 9/7/15

RMT members enjoying a hot cup of Solidari-Tea 9/7/15… that white powder in that bag is just sugar… honestly

I went down to the picket on Thursday morning to talk to the picketers and give them some Bristol Green Solidari-Tea and Coffee (still can’t think of an adequate pun…. maybe comradecoffee? no that won’t do).  It was an absolutely lovely day, and everyone seemed in high spirits.  Whilst I was there a semi-continuous stream of visitors/well wishers coming to show their support, and the response from the public seemed generally very positive.  Across the network around 2000 staff participating in the strike and reportedly First Great Western had to cancel 40% of their services.  There are reports that some of their other services were only kept running by forcing TSSA staff to do jobs “which they do not feel either qualified or confident to do” – which has led to the union also balloting its members for strike action. The RMT have just rejected FGW’s latest offer – which apparently still does nothing to address the key concerns for safety and jobs around the train guard and maintenance staff – and are planning future strike dates, and with the TSSA presently balloting for action, further strikes seem likely.

Should that happen we’ll be happy to support these workers taking a stand to protect their own jobs and all our safety, and we encourage everyone else to do so too.  In these hard times of austerity we need solidarity and compassion more than ever before.  Only by working together and magnifying the impact of each others struggles will we have any hope of resisting this repressive government’s attacks on ordinary people and our planet.

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