29.08.12 Mel Simpson

Since its launch last week,‭ ‬the South West NHS Fightback campaign has received a‭ ‬warm‭ ‬response.‭

Thousands of leaflets have been handed out calling for the‭ ‬60,000‭ ‬hospital workers across the region to reject the attempt by the Pay Terms and Conditions Consortium‭ (‬PTC‭) ‬to slash wages and introduce a performance based pay system,‭ ‬increase working hours,‭ ‬reduce unsocial–hour‭’‬s payment,‭ ‬remove sickness absence enhancements and cut annual leave.‭ ‬The South West NHS Fightback Website has received nearly ‬500‭ ‬hits.

During the leafleting campaign workers‭ ‬have been‭ ‬warned that the PTC‭’‬s plans are a test case for the‭ ‬1.5‭ ‬million NHS workers across the country and are a prelude to further privatisation.‭

This‭ ‬would not be possible without the collaboration of the trade unions,‭ ‬which pushed the Agenda for Change in‭ ‬2004,‭ ‬claiming it would protect wages and conditions.‭ ‬The new proposals are the predictable outcome of the Agenda for Change agreements and come on top of a two year pay freeze,‭ ‬significant increases in pension contributions and an increase in the retirement age.

Many NHS staff expressed their concern about the government‭’‬s massive cuts and the implications of the Health and Social Care Bill.‭ ‬Some were unaware that the bill introduces a competitive market-based system,‭ ‬in which health care will be rationed.‭ ‬Each hospital or Trust will be able to set up joint ventures with the private sector.‭ ‬The bill abolishes the duty to provide a comprehensive health service and to ensure equality of access.‭ ‬Instead,‭ ‬ a consortia of General Practitioners will arrange for such services as they deem necessary,‭ ‬based on their budget.‭

GP consortia can enter into arrangements with private providers and will be able to charge patients.‭ ‬Twenty-three for profit companies already run‭ ‬227‭ ‬GP practices.

Local authorities can also be required to take over NHS functions,‭ ‬at a time when their budgets are being slashed to the bone.‭ ‬Patients will soon find themselves entitled only to a basic menu of treatments,‭ ‬as under the US system of managed care,‭ ‬and ultimately will have to depend on an insurance-based system.‭ ‬These measures will cost tens of thousands their health,‭ ‬even their lives.

A number of comments by NHS workers have been posted on the website‭  ‬in which they talk about privatisation,‭ ‬working conditions and the role of the trade unions.‭

Typical was one who said about the NHS how,‭ ‬“It‭’‬s declined,‭ ‬it‭’‬s a business more than a national health service,‭ ‬more and more outside businesses coming in,‭ ‬private companies,‭ ‬which are under cutting drastically which actually reduces the service.‭”

A cleaner approached us saying that she had worked for the NHS for six years.‭ ‬When she started she had had no training and had to watch other cleaners on how to clean inside the hospital.‭ ‬She‭ ‬states that‭ ‬staffs morale‭ ‬is‭ ‬low and they‭ ‬are‭ ‬all afraid of losing their jobs.‭ ‬They are not allowed to talk about‭ ‬the conditions they work in.‭ ‬Such concerns are‭ ‬the fault of the unions,‭ ‬whose collaboration with management repeatedly leads workers to defeat.

One worker explained how this had happened to him,‭ ‬“Union leaders and the employers first have back door discussion about what is to come.‭ ‬Then the union leaders come to us and try to convince us the employers‭’‬ positions.‭ ‬It happened several times in this hospital.‭ ‬The pay cartel thing is the latest one.‭ ‬They now do not ask about what we think before they go to meet the employer.‭ ‬They sometimes just put a leaflet on the table without discussing the issue.‭ ‬When we question them later on,‭ ‬they say we informed you by this or that leaflet.‭ ‬I am sick of these unions.‭”

At Southmead Hospital,‭ ‬Bristol,‭ ‬the reaction from NHS workers‭ ‬to our‭ ‬call‭ ‬for a break from the unions and the establishment of Action Committees‭ ‬was overwhelmingly positive.‭ ‬Cars queued outside the hospital,‭ ‬winding down their windows taking leaflets,‭ ‬asking for several copies to take to their work colleagues or for the night shift and without exception agreed with our‭ ‬criticism‭ ‬of the trade unions.

Our campaign for a break with the unions and the formation of Action Committees came as bit of shock to many,‭ ‬but not a disagreeable‭ ‬one.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬not a single‭ ‬person‭ ‬voiced any opposition,‭ ‬disagreement or even a note of caution.

The only experience of hostility has come from local trade union reps,‭ ‬who make desperate attempts to justify their campaign‭ ‬of‭ ‬appealing to the‭ ‬Trust‭ ‬directors and the Liberal Democrats to oppose the very cuts that they have called for and fully intend on carrying out.‭

One local Unite rep challenged us on our statement.‭ ‬Without batting an eyelid she scathingly informed us that workers in her hospital‭ ‬“know nothing about what is happening‭!‬”

On‭ ‬being asked whose fault that was and‭ ‬our‭ ‬outlining the bankruptcy of the unions‭’‬ campaign of begging letters and petitions,‭ ‬demonstrations and strikes on dinner breaks,‭ ‬she said,‭ ‬“We have to try everything.‭”‬

“We are doing something‎! ‏We are talking to‭ [‬Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy prime Minister‭] ‬Nick Clegg,‭”‬ she added.

Socialist Equality Party‭ ‬members were also challenged by dismayed union reps from the Royal College of Nurses‭ (‬RCN‭) ‬and Unison,‭ ‬who proudly informed us that‭ ‬they were also having discussions with Clegg and another unnamed Liberal Democrat MP.‭ ‬The‭ ‬RCN‭ ‬rep also announced that the‭ ‬“RCN will surprise you in the next couple of days.‭”

Jeannett Martin,‭ ‬Regional Director,‭ ‬RCN South West Region,‭ ‬revealed the much anticipated‭ ‬“surprise‭”‬ in letter to members:

‎“‏ I have written to the Chief Executive of each of the‎ ‏20‎ ‏trusts that are members of the Pay Cartel ‭(‬10‭ ‬August‭) ‬and,‭ ‬on behalf of all the health unions in the South West,‭ ‬formally asked them to withdraw from this Cartel. This letter has been copied to the Chair and Non Executive Directors of the trust and your local‭ ‬chair of staff side,‭ ‬so that they can follow it up with their Chief Executives.‭”

The surprise then,‭ ‬is a latter has been written to the trusts‭’ ‬management.

The hospital authorities are not too keen on the Fightback campaign.‭ ‬Those handing out leaflets are confronted by security guards and told to keep off NHS property.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬outside one hospital,‭ ‬three security guards informed us,‭ ‬“The fat cats up stairs,‭ ‬you know the ones who don‭’‬t have to worry about a‭ ‬10‭ ‬percent cut in their wages,‭ ‬have told us to inform you that you need to move off hospital property as some staff have complained.‭ ‬Staff haven‭’‬t complained,‭ ‬only the fat cats don‭’‬t like you being here.‭ ‬Give us some of those leaflets and we will put them in the staff room.‭ ‬Thanks for being here and fighting our corner.‭”‬