Kirstine Carbutt, Care UK Doncaster shop steward addressing the demo. Photo John Rees Kirstine Carbutt, Care UK Doncaster shop steward addressing the demo. Photo John Rees

Trade union banners from around the country were visible in support of the Care UK strikers’ struggle

Doncaster People’s Assembly’s ‘Doncaster Fighting Back’ demonstration drew 300 people onto the streets in support of the Care UK strikers last Saturday. Trade union banners from around the country were there, brought by people who recognise the importance of this dispute as part of our struggle to stop our health service being handed over to private companies.

There is real determination in the Care UK strikers, and as Kirstine Carbutt told the demonstrators they have little alternative. The new contracts that Care UK want to impose will mean a massive reduction in living standards that the workers simply cannot afford.

The speakers showed an overwhelming desire to continue with the solidarity work that will prevent Care UK from starving the strikers back to work. Thousands of pounds are being collected across the country and this is certainly helping the strikers to keep up the fight.

However this also raises the question of how the strike can win. It is clear that Care UK can cope with a strike by a limited amount of workers at one point in their UK operation no matter how determined the strikers are. There are a good number of the strikers who favour using the tactics of leverage that unions such as Unite have started to develop.

Care UK are owned by Bridgepoint, a private equity company who run all kinds of businesses around Europe, and have been exposed as yet another organisation who actively avoid paying taxes. They run a variety of retail outlets and their portfolio includes Leeds-Bradford airport. They are currently applying for further contracts to provide services in the NHS, and it is clear that once they have wormed their way in they abandon commitments to their staff and consequently the people they care for. This is surely the Achilles heel of the company. They need to face a barrage of negative propaganda accompanied by the confrontational tactics that leverage can offer.

Kevin Pass, a former Unite and Unison organiser and Doncaster Peoples Assembly activist, has produced a very helpful document outlining the corporate interests of Bridgepoint and where they can be hit by activists who understand the devastating consequences of NHS privatisation.

Concerted and coordinated national action around Bridgepoint’s businesses during the next strike by Care UK workers could take the fight to the enemy and punch a massive hole in the privatisation of the NHS too.

Trade union leaders who are only too happy to decry the privatisation of the NHS in populist speeches need to take the opportunity to strike a real blow against it. As Kevin argues, winning the dispute has to be put at the forefront of any actions and then we can start to make the strikes really hit home.

There was an impressive line-up of speakers at the rally at the end of the demonstration. Highlights included a Unite shop steward from the Yorkshire Ambulance Service who told us of similar levels of wage cuts they are facing and the introduction of privately owned ambulances into the region. They are also taking ongoing strike action against it.

We also heard from the Freedom Ride campaign which is organising pensioners across our region against the scaling back of free local transport for pensioners. This involves a growing number of people who are gathering weekly to travel together and refuse to pay the fare. This action is proving to be very popular with the public and rail workers. There were real and sincere pledges of support from rail workers, teachers and local government workers too. Clearly victory is possible. Finally it was pointed out that with the coming local and European elections, the Labour Party is missing out on a massive opportunity to win votes by taking a principled stand on NHS privatisation.

John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.

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