Barts NHS strike expands

by James Ivens, London Socialist Party

The courageous strike at Barts NHS Trust has inspired more workers to join the fight. Another boisterous Unite the Union rally outside the Royal London Hospital showed the action picking up momentum.

Dozens of pharmacists walked out during the last round of action on 4-10 December. This is a first! They have a crucial function in hospital care and are fed up with unsafe staffing levels. Pharmacists are now working towards electing reps.

Barts strikers marching in East London
Barts strikers marching in East London.
Photo: Hugo Pierre

Pathologists and haematologists were also out in force at the 6 December rally. Their work is indispensable to diagnosis. On top of its own five hospitals, Barts supplies these services to several others across east and southeast London.

The march around the Royal London in Whitechapel stopped off at pathology HQ with a workers’ petition, chanting and blasting an air horn. They compelled a manager to come down, hear from the rep and receive the petition.

Emergency Department nurses have suffered a new injury from the trust. Management has barred all further requests for leave to the end of the year. Entitlement will not roll over to 2024. A striking nurse told us that means some of them losing 70 to 90 hours of leave. What a way to deal with a staff morale and retention crisis!

Meanwhile, the ‘soft facilities management’ staff – caterers, cleaners, domestics, porters and the like – continue their action on pay. Bosses still refuse to honour the lump sum paid to NHS staff for those sections who were restored from outsourced to direct NHS employment ‘too late’ for it.

But strike action forced the trust to bring them back in-house. Strike action can win more on pay and conditions across all different parts of the workforce.

The next round of action involves Synergy staff from 18-26 December, and Trust staff 18-22 and 25-26 December.

Where workers get a fighting lead – such as that from Unite Barts branch secretary and Socialist Party member Len Hockey – they will fight, and they can win.

Barts NHS Trust workers keep on fighting

NHS under seige
Barts NHS strike. Photo: James Ivens

On 4 December, Unite the Union members at Barts NHS Trust embarked on their fifth tranche of action in their dispute over pay and safe staffing, with 24 days of action already under their belts.

The week-long strike takes place at five east London hospitals, and involves workers in ‘soft services’ — domestics, porters, catering staff, security etc — who are fighting for fair treatment. One porter at Whipps Cross said: “We don’t know if we’ll win. But we have to think about our children and grandchildren.”

At the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel, these workers are joined in strike action by A&E nurses and pathologists.

Barts NHS strike: ‘We won’t stay down for people to ride over us’

Unite members at the East London Barts NHS Trust — domestics, porters, catering staff and more — concluded two weeks of strike action over pay on 17 November with a rally at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel. They will be out again 4-10 December.

Speaking at a rally earlier in the week at Whipps Cross hospital in Leytonstone, Ellen Barzey, Unite rep at St Bart’s hospital, one of the five hospitals that make up the Trust, said: “A big thank you to everyone who’s striking and taking part. We’re striking for fair pay and equality. Keep up the fight!”

Whipps Cross rally, Nov 2
Whipps Cross rally. Photo: James Ivens

Milicent Manso, rep at the Royal London, said: “We are not here because we just want to come out, just for fun. We want to stand up for our rights. We don’t want to just stay down there for people to ride over us. Now we have to stick together and fight together.

“We are always last — everything they do, we are always last. And now we want to put a stop to that. We will not allow them to treat us anyhow. Let us come together and fight together. We will win together. We will not stop till we get fair pay, respect and fair treatment.”

Barts strike escalates: “We’ll keep on until they pay”

Domestics, catering staff, porters and other ‘soft services’ workers, members of Unite, have begun 12 days of strike action in Barts NHS Trust, across five East London hospitals. This follows over a week of action in September and three days in October.

Rally outside Royal London Hospital.
Rallying at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel
Photo: James Ivens

Over 1,000 workers are fighting over the national NHS pay award, but also over specific issues. These workers won a historic victory in 2022 when they were brought back in to the NHS from private company Serco, as a result of bold strike action. However, due to the staggered way in which Barts Trust decided to bring the workers over, some of them received a £1,655 lump sum paid to NHS staff, and others didn’t. So, among other demands, the strike is to call for the lump sum to be paid to all.

The Tory government has just been forced through legal action to pay the one-off lump sum to health workers who missed out because they worked for non-NHS organisations. Workers such as community nurses and physiotherapists will now get the bonus.

This still doesn’t apply to Barts workers, as until they were brought back in-house their wages were not pegged to NHS rates. But this legal victory should nonetheless be a boost to Barts workers, as it shows the Tories can be pushed back.

Unite rep at Whipps Cross hospital in Leytonstone, Maria Talaia, spoke to the Socialist on the picket line

We decided to take 12 days of strike action, because when we came out in September, they promised us they would talk but they didn’t come to us till now. We are striking for the lump sum, we are striking for dignity and respect.

When we transferred over, they put catering and domestics through in May. They put porters through first. So they paid porters the lump sum, but they didn’t pay us. And that’s totally unfair. They’ve also capped overtime to no more than ten hours.

But we are standing together. We are the ones who do the job. We are the ones on the front line. But the bosses don’t appreciate us. That’s why we decided to strike again.

More people are involved in the strike, more people have joined Unite. And if they don’t pay we’ll come again, and we’ll come again, until they pay.