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Trade Unionists set for initial strikes at York District Hospital – more to follow

Union members at York District Hospital have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action, officials announced yesterday. A ballot of members of the Unite union returned a majority of 92.6% in favour of a strike, in a dispute over the implementation of a Limited Liability Company (LLC), a private initiative set to be effectively forced on health workers with effect from the 1st of October. With two days of strike action already announced for the 27th and 28th of September – and the possibility of further action under consideration – an escalating row has erupted over the Trust’s lack of meaningful consultation with both the unions and the public.

York TUC President Leigh Wilks, who writing in the York Press back in March publicly urged the Trust to enter into talks, reiterated who should shoulder the blame in a press release issued earlier today: “The so-called consultation process in this case is a joke. York NHS Trust has some serious questions to answer. Agree to talks now, as we asked you to do six months ago. You are barely meeting the legal definition of meaningful consultation, and for a public service that is not acceptable.” He added: “No union member takes going on strike lightly. But by all accounts York NHS Trust has attempted to frustrate the union reps with a campaign of evasiveness and subterfuge. Refusing to show the business plan for the LLC on the basis that it is “commercially sensitive” does not fool anyone, and your written assurances to staff that roles will remain unaffected are clearly not believed by 96% of Unite members. If you fail to act now, that shows a clear intransigence totally inappropriate to a public service provider.”

Unite shop steward and York TUC delegate Mal Richardson, who with colleague Michelle Hartlett has led the hospital workers’ campaign against the Limited Liability Company, was even more forthright: “If they discipline me, I’ll be on the picket line. If they bully me, I’ll still be on the picket line. And if they sack me, I will come back to haunt them.”

Limited Liability Companies (LLC) have been used by various NHS trusts up and down the country as a means of bringing healthcare workers under the auspices of a private company, while still under the public NHS umbrella. In some areas, they have been forced through with very little opposition; however in others, they have met with fierce union resistance, forcing the health trusts to back down and abandon the policy. Part of the problem with the York Trust’s plans is the appalling lack of transparency and the limitation of meaningful “consultation” to a list of “Q&A’s” issued to staff on a piece of paper. The general public – mostly oblivious to the fact that the plan even exists – have been given even less of an opportunity to voice their concerns. By attempting to rush the plan through as quickly as possible, the Trust’s management have shown a contempt to their staff, their union stewards who are there to represent their interests, and the public who rely on the service and who overwhelmingly oppose further privatisation.

The closure of Bootham Park Hospital, which has left York with little to no mental health provision and resulted in vulnerable patients being shipped off to private providers in Darlington and elsewhere, has shown that – at a minimum – the management of York NHS Trust now deserves business serious scrutiny and that – in the case of this proposed Limited Liability Company – they are doing everything they can to avoid being scrutinised. Their cavalier attitude to consulting their staff, and the union reps who represent them, is characteristic of the behaviour of the very worst multinational corporations; the fact that this behaviour should be displayed by the city’s biggest employer, and the nation’s number one public service, is a devastating reflection of the times – and a savage indictment of the free-market policies of one of the most vicious Governments in living memory. “The ball is now in their court,” says Mr Wilks. “They have had well over six months notice of what could potentially happen if they didn’t listen to the concerns of the staff. Let us hope now that they put this plan on hold – or better still, abandon it. But forcing this through is no longer an option – I hope that at the very least is crystal clear. You will not stream-roller these plans through if we have anything to do with it – and if you do, there will be hell to pay.”

Messages of support & solidarity for the strikers can be emailed to:  yorktuc@outlook.com.

 

 

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Link Up Archive now online

After a significant absence, all 58 issues of Link Up – the newsletter produced by York TUC from 1993 to 2012 – are now available to download on the York TUC website.

The archive contains some fascinating historical insights into the trade union movement, both within the city and out in the wider world.

For more information, please visit the Link Up Archive.

A big show of support for socialist healthcare – a poor show of silence by the corporate media

It’s not every year that the first day of a party conference is met by 60,000 activists, marching in opposition to a single political issue. But, as the famously astute (yet famously ineffectual) Chancellor Nigel Lawson drily observed – “The NHS is the closest thing that the English have to a religion”.

On Sunday 29th September, thousands of NHS worshippers (including two coach-loads from York & District TUC) brought central Manchester to a stand-still. Hordes of trade unionists, health workers, students and activists converged on the city, to protest the Tories’ dismantling by stealth of the greatest of all British institutions; the NHS. A blatant privatisation in all but name – an Orwellian “reform” offering patient “choice” and “efficiency” (always truly terrifying words when uttered from Conservative lips) – this was always going to be an issue that would bring people on to the streets.

And bring people out it certainly did. With a line of tightly-packed union contingents close to a mile long, it took more than half an hour before the march could even set off. The range of campaigners was unusually broad; apart from the predicted mass of branded union flags arranged in traditional block formation, there were young teens with cardboard placards and personalised slogans daubed in red paint; hunt saboteurs with black flags on which were sleek red foxes, and an incessantly loud (and very blue) contingent of students from Manchester University – proudly reclaiming a colour that, for far too long, has been associated with a political ideology that most students don’t particularly like very much.

There was an element of celebration – a celebration that after 60 years, one of the few remaining achievements of post-War socialism has still not been truly broken, because the people just refuse to let go of it. As the students put it on one of their placards – “Private Health Service – it just sounds crap.” Indeed it does. But there was also a sense of urgency; a feeling that the oiled-up wheels are already well in motion, that the US “healthcare” giants are already circling like vultures looking for a pick of the Health Service buck – and that, despite the overwhelming opposition of a huge majority of the electorate, the Government are quite prepared to press ahead with their “reforms” without so much as a blink – no matter what 60,000 lefties marching on a Sunday afternoon might think. In York, which has this last week seen the announcement of the closure of a mental health unit, we are only just beginning to see the effects of this push for “choice” and “efficiency” – because there is sure to be a great deal more of it coming our way. 

What was more baffling – and if you think about it, also a little disturbing – was the shameful lack of media coverage of such a massive demonstration. This was probably the largest Manchester has ever seen, and although it was adequately covered by the local press, the lack of a national media presence was noticeable – and surprising. Considering some of the “trouble” at TUC demos in the past, most notably March 26th 2011, a big media presence was fully expected. Yet the reality was quite different – BBC News uttered a few cursory remarks about a “peaceful protest” before swiftly moving back to its headline report on the shut-down of the US Government. There was barely a mention in the mainstream Left-wing press – including The Guardian – let alone the gutter tabloids, who for the last few weeks have been far more occupied with the issue of whether a late Marxist academic “hated Britain” or not.

Some activist groups, infuriated by the BBC’s almost non-existent coverage, have flooded the BBC with complaints and – somewhat predictably – received the same carbon-copy response – “The event was covered – during all news slots”. Well – yes, that’s true. But they didn’t report the six-foot high ring of steel protecting the precious elite from the wrath of NHS workers and their families – hardly unexpected, of course, that only the Tory Party conference would need that sort of extra protection from “breaches of security”. In one of the most ironic events of the day, BBC correspondent Norman Smith tweeted that he had been “prevented” from filming the demo from inside the Tories’ Fort Knox compound – by, as it turned out – G4S. Ironic, because if the Tories ever did get round to privatising our police force, this company – an outfit that has in the past seemed to specialise in “losing” prisoners on a disturbingly regular basis – would probably be right at the front of the queue. But shocking in that the BBC didn’t even see fit to report the blatant censorship of one of their own.

What a comparison this all was to the huge TUC demo in March a few years ago, when we saw a swathe of rampaging anarchists running through Oxford Street attacking the Ritz, high street banks and other symbols of indifferent affluence – in the midst of a crippling austerity imposed on ordinary people. Violence, it appears, seems to be the only news that certain elements of the corporate media are only really interested in these days. In adopting this tendency, they are playing a dangerous game. The overwhelming majority of ordinary people in this country are peaceful and law-abiding – and realise only too well that extreme violence and disorder on the streets is counter-productive – haven’t we lost enough civil rights over the last 20 years on the back of perceived ideas about terrorism and “threats of disorder” to know that we shouldn’t give the Government further excuse to take even more? Yet it seems that, if there is no “disorder” on TUC marches these days – then the major media are just not interested.

But what is true is that 60,000 ordinary people – who are representative of a great deal more than that – can’t be ignored – and nor should they be, least of all by the professional arbiters of journalism, whose ideas of a free press are supposed to underpin the very principles of our democracy. The advance of instant and independent media – and the lightning spread of ideas – makes any ignorance on the part of the corporate media redundant, because it is they who are becoming redundant. Those who oppose the sell-off of our National Health Service, whether the corporate media report on them or not, are not going to go away – and the electorate, who already think that the Government is not being honest on this issue – let alone right and responsible, are equally furious. That is something that both the Government and the corporate media will just have to come to terms with, and preferably sooner rather than later.

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