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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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

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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

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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, Railways, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

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

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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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NHS, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

The NHS Pay Dispute

Over the last two months, NHS workers in Bristol and across England have staged two 4 hour strikes and action short of a strike over pay and conditions. The Bristol Green Party (and the Party in general) completely supports them in their efforts to convince the government to rethink its pay offer; and has been down to the picket lines to provide practical solidarity (and Solidari-Tea and coffee).  The unions have announced their plans to escalate the dispute with further strikes in January and Feburary; the Bristol Green Party will continue to support them in their demands for fair pay. Well motivated and properly paid staff should be at the heart of all visions for a health service suitable for our society.

The NHS pay dispute has been caused by the government’s refusal to honour the (less than inflation) 1% pay rise recommended by the independent NHS pay review body.  Instead the government proposes to give a 1% unconsolidated increase (meaning it doesn’t affect pensions, overtime or unsocial hours) only to those at the top of their pay band.  This means 60% of all NHS staff (and 70% of nurses) won’t get a pay rise for at least another two years.  NHS wages haven’t increased above inflation since 2009 (and have been frozen for the majority of that period).  In the five years that have passed since 2009 this has resulted in a 10-16% decline in real wages against inflation. I can imagine for some, attempting to support a family on these wages to be extremely difficult.  Especially as we enter the Christmas period. As wages have stagnated and the cost of living sored NHS workers (in tandem with ordinary people across society) have had to make significant cut backs to their lifestyles; this was highlighted by a recent UNISON survey. The survey found one in five NHS workers needed more than one job to make ends meet. 54% were overdrawn every month, two thirds have had to cut back on food, 51% have reduced their energy usage and 44% have cut back on transport. A massive 80% have had to cut back on holidays and 90% on leisure activities, leaving them with little opportunity to recuperate from stressful jobs with long hours.

Staff are already pushed nearly to breaking point as a result of continued attacks to their terms and conditions. To save cash and meet austerity ‘efficiency savings’ (the £20 billion cut to NHS funding Cameron promised he wouldn’t make) large numbers of staff have been down banded (being pushed to a lower pay band to do the exact same job); ancillary staff and services have been outsourced; and there has been widespread reduction in staffing numbers – often replaced with lower paid and lower qualified agency staff (though never at the same rate).  Over 35,000 NHS jobs have been lost since the coalition came to power.  Staffing numbers are now critically low, and it falls to our remaining health workers to pick up the buck. Recent research carried out by the Income Data Services (IDS) found that 63% of staff are regularly working in excess of their contact hours. The main reason respondents say they work more than their contracted hours is because they feel ‘it is impossible to do their job to a satisfactory standard if they don’t’ and because staff want ‘to provide the best care they can for patients’. Over a third of respondents (36 per cent) reported that additional hours worked are all unpaid. No wonder NHS staff (even Midwifes who haven’t struck once in their entire 132 year history – until now) are striking after the latest insulting pay offer.

The government’s health secretary Jeremy Hunt has tried to justify the miserly pay offer by saying that to give all staff a 1% rise would mean having to sack 15,000 nurses.  Strangely I can’t recall any government official outlining how many MPs are going to have to be made redundant so they can increase their pay by a massive 11%.  It seems there’s always extra money to increase MPs pay, fund wars, bail out bankers, or cut taxes for the rich and corporations; but not to adequately pay the staff who run the country’s most important public services.  Attacks on the pay and conditions of public sector workers and ordinary people as a part of austerity policies seems to be a deliberate attempt to shift the cost of the financial crisis (caused by the financial and political elite) onto those who did the least to cause it.  Whilst ordinary people see their living standards decline with the most prolonged retraction of wages since the Victorian times, banker’s bonuses boom and the super-rich continue to amass record fortunes.  Still we’re all in it together – apparently.

The strike, and picket is the most effect tool we have for making our voices heard.  Many people will say that it doesn’t do anything.  They may be right that it might not persuade the government to change its minds this time; but by striking we demonstrate just how angry we are about this insulting pay offer, and how we’re prepared to resist.  This makes it much more likely that next time NHS pay comes up for review in 2016 the government will think twice about freezing it again.  Furthermore, the chances of success are higher than many may think.  It is over the NHS that the majority of people disagree with government policy the most, strike’s cause publicity and force the public’s attention onto the NHS.  This is a massive embarrassment for the government so close to the general election, and makes them much more likely to come to the negotiating table and give us the fair and descent pay we all deserve.  That is why I strongly encourage all of my fellow NHS workers to get involved in the campaign for fair pay, and to join the picket lines in the new year.  Workers acting alone will not be enough to give us the NHS we deserve.  We need workers, patients, and the wider community all to come together to show our support for this most vital public service, and to broaden our struggles against poultry pay to include the much more alarming privatisation (see follow up article) that is undermining the very foundation of our NHS.  There is no better place to do this than on the picket line.

Bristol Green Party activists supporting striking NHS workers at Southmede hospital

Bristol Green Party activists supporting striking NHS workers at Southmead hospital

Deb Joffe on milk and sugar duty

Deb Joffe on milk and sugar duty

William Quick dishing up a hot cup of Solidari-Tea

William Quick dishing up a hot cup of Solidari-Tea

Green councilor Martin Fodor supporting the strike

Green councilor Martin Fodor supporting the strike

William Quick TULO, Tony Dyer Bristol South Parliamentary Candidate, and Deb Joffe Windmill hill ward candidate supporting the picket

William Quick TULO, Tony Dyer Bristol South Parliamentary Candidate, and Deb Joffe Windmill hill ward candidate supporting the picket

Dani Glazzard candidate for Cotham ward, and new member Kay with striking UNISON member

Dani Glazzard candidate for Cotham ward, and new member Kay with striking UNISON member

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