London party

Strike by security guards at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital continues, United Voices of the World isolates union

Security guards at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) in London are continuing their strike and protests for equal pay, working conditions with National Health Service (NHS) staff. The workers demand that their outsourcing be stopped and that they be brought back “in-house”.

United Workers Voice protest on February 3, Jeremy Corbyn (center) and UVW co-founder Petros Elia (left) (UVW)

The guards, members of the United Voices of the World (UVW) union, began their strike last year and will have racked up 50 days of action by the end of April, making it the longest strike in the NHS. This testifies to the determination of the workers to win their fight, but the UVW oversaw the isolation of the resistance and scaled down the action.

After a three-day strike last December, security guards carried out 44 days of action between February 2 and March 18, with one-day stoppages resuming every Friday from April 1.

The security staff are employed by Carlisle Support Services, part of the £1.2billion business empire of former Conservative Party vice-chairman Lord Ashcroft. While company accounts show pre-tax profits of £1.3m on revenue of £65m in 2019, guards are paid a paltry sum of just £11.05 from l ‘hour.

Ashcroft, who has donated millions to the Conservative Party, is known to have enjoyed ‘non-dom’ status for 10 years because he lives in Belize, meaning he paid no UK tax. United. Carlisle Support Services has been able to benefit from outsourcing services such as cleaning, security, events and the provision of temporary sales staff. Most workers are employed at minimum wage and in the most substandard conditions.

This is the case of the 36 GOSH security officers. If they are sick, they only receive statutory sick pay of £96.35, less than a quarter of their basic weekly salary. By contrast, NHS staff directly employed in the hospital can receive up to six months’ full salary in the event of illness.

Security guard Peter Akintoye, who has been employed at the hospital since 2017, told the Guardian he had only had one sick leave in four years. “I have to go to work when I’m sick. It’s not just me, it’s almost all of us. We cannot afford to be sick. We still have to come to work.

In February, workers were forced to suspend pickets and protests after the UVW received a High Court injunction following legal proceedings launched by hospital management for which they reportedly paid £40,000 in legal costs. This threatened the union and its members with imprisonment, fines and/or seizure of their property if they continued to demonstrate peacefully outside the hospital.

UVW Co-Founder Petros Elia explained: “Members of UVW’s GOSH Security Guards and anyone who supports them have just been ordered by the High Court to do any of the following things to less than 200 meters from GOSH… ‘waving banners’, ‘playing music’. ‘, ‘screaming’, making ‘rapid or dramatic movements’, ‘making loud noises’, engaging in a ‘vigorous dance’ or ‘photographing or filming’ anyone entering or leaving GOSH.

Following a High Court hearing in mid-February, the terms of the original injunction were changed but maintained restrictions on protests within 50 meters of the hospital.

Elia told the press: “We are delighted to have been able to recover some of the rights that were taken away from us and tried to be taken away, including the right to dance and demonstrate in unlimited numbers outside of GOSH, among others, but the restrictions in place are still unfairly oppressive.

the World Socialist Websitewrote: “The High Court injunction against the GOSH workers is a warning to the whole working class. It takes place amid a wave of strikes and wage disputes triggered by rising inflation and fueled by the bitter experience of workers during the pandemic.

From the start, the UVW expressed the dispute in racial terms. He describes the strike as being against “racist outsourcing”. Before the strike began, he organized a class action lawsuit alleging indirect racial discrimination against the hospital saying, “Predominantly black, brown and migrant security guards believe their status as outsourced workers, in worse conditions than those predominantly white, in- housed NHS workers, is an example of structural racism.

Such a perspective pits black and migrant workers against their class brothers and sisters of other ethnicities and nationalities employed directly by the NHS, who are portrayed as enjoying a privileged existence without reference to poverty wages, bullying by management and the unbearable workloads faced by the 1.4 million workforce.

People working for the NHS are part of a multi-ethnic and multinational workforce. According to official statistics, the NHS workforce is 78% ‘white’ and 22% ‘non-white’, compared to national figures of 87 and 13%. NHS workers include representatives from virtually every country in the world. A House of Commons Library document from September 2021 says that although most NHS workers are “British/British”, they work alongside tens of thousands of people from 212 other countries.

By portraying the problem facing GOSH security officers as one of racial discrimination, the UVW denies the essential class content of the struggle in which they are engaged. This is further demonstrated by the forces he calls upon for support.

The UVW claims to have 5,000 members and to be a “grassroots union”, but its campaign is directed towards the Labor Party and the main unions, the organizations responsible for decades of betrayal and betrayal of workers’ struggles. At the rally to kick off the strike, the UVW ceded its platform to former Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labor MP Richard Burgon, as well as key members of the railways union, the sea ​​and transport and the union of universities and colleges. Other union bureaucrats who have addressed UVW rallies outside of GOSH include National Education Union general secretary Kevin Courtney and Unison executive committee member Sandy Nichol.

Corbyn spent his time as Labor leader between 2015 and 2020 abandoning everything he promised when elected – ending Labour’s pro-business, pro-austerity and pro-war agenda. Despite widespread support, especially from young people, he refused to drive out the right-wing Blairites and secured control of the party reverting to that cabal, now led by Sir Keir Starmer.

To prove the role of unions as a corporate policing force, one need only look at the major unions operating within the NHS. After more than a decade of austerity and below-inflation pay rises for NHS workers, the Johnson government was able to inflict another real wage cut last year, when it imposed a raise salary of 3% with inflation already at 5.1%. This could be because health unions have suppressed mass opposition within the million-strong NHS workforce.

Despite votes overwhelmingly opposed to the government’s pay offer, by tying the pay dispute to a series of non-binding advisory and indicative ballots, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Unison, Unite and others were able to prevent any action. In the end, the unions suspended all action after three quarters of Unison and RCN members abstained because they did not want to participate in the degrading pantomime of a struggle that would have been organized by the unions before to impose treason.

GOSH security officers should reject the racial narrative that divides the UVW and its bankrupt appeals to unions and the Labor Party. Their true allies are the millions of colleagues in the NHS, the public sector and beyond. Workers everywhere are facing the same attacks on their wages because the government has let inflation run wild and loaded up the costs of the pandemic, and now the US-NATO war on Russia, on their backs.

What is needed are new organs of struggle, rank-and-file committees, independent of the unions and which seek to unite all workers in a common struggle guided by a socialist perspective, placing the needs of the greatest number above profits of a few. .

This is the NHS FightBack programme, initiated by the Socialist Equality Party. Walk in touch with NHS FightBack to share your experiences and connect with our Facebook page. Sign up for the WSWS newsletter for healthcare workers here.