Gary Griffiths reports from a vibrant and defiant rally of striking security guards from Great Ormond Street Hospital
On a dank, dark, dismal Friday afternoon on 4 March, the spirits of the striking outsourced security guards from Great Ormond Street Hospital (Gosh) were not dampened. On the contrary, despite 33 days of strike action, they remain defiant, determined and resolute.
The rally took place in Queen’s Square which runs parallel to the hospital. Management has refused to meet the workers around the table to listen and negotiate. No, instead, management has secured an injunction to disrupt and restrict the picket line. It is reported that this intimidatory action has cost Gosh £40,000. Is this what the public signed up for? “No”, said a supporting member of the public, when asked.
Well-wishers, supporters and solidarity unions gathered with the striking security guards, assembled under the banner of the United Voices of the World (UVW), whilst banners from University and College Union (UCU), Goldsmiths University, Unite, RMT and Unison.
The assembled crowd and passers-by were reminded why the Gosh security guards are striking. These predominantly Black, Brown and migrant workers were outsourced to private company, Carlisle, on poorer terms and conditions than their largely white NHS colleagues employed in house. These security guards want to return to being in-house employees and to enjoy, as NHS staff, the same benefits and conditions of work. They seek respect, dignity and justice. They all love the NHS and the children they are employed to protect, but they also have children too and want to be able to protect them equally. They can’t on poverty pay and being forced to work, when sick, in the absence of adequate sick pay and under threat of dismissal.
These heroic workers are making a stand not just for themselves but for all workers currently and for the future, facing similar situations as employers seek to roll out outsourcing on an ever-alarming rate. The current government’s Health and Social Care Bill is designed to further fragment and privatise our NHS. But it is not just in the health sector that these practices are attacking workers’ terms and conditions. It is essential that workers unite across sectors to stop this divisiveness, derision and devaluing of what they represent – “key workers”.
As Tina, from Child Health, representing UCU, said “An injury to one is an injury to all”. The message was that they stand with strikers. She asked the strikers if they felt like “they were being treated like second class citizens.” Tina disagreed with their resounding “YES” response, going on to say that “she thought that they were being treated like third class citizens”. She asked is there an alternative to fighting. “You don’t fight, you don’t win”, came the reply. Tina gave every encouragement and extended solidarity saying that “the strikers are not alone, UCU stands with them”.
An RMT train driver from the Piccadilly Line spoke eloquently about outsourced workers in Transport for London (TfL) and the need for workers and unions to come together, to work together to put an end to the outsourced model. He brought solidarity from the RMT, adding that the strikers had already won victories.
“When they joined a union – it was a victory; when they organised a strike ballot they won – it was a victory and every day that they had been on strike is a victory.”
Bella from UVW gave her experiences of fighting outsourcing and praised the strikers for their inspiration. A representative from the Camden Trades Council delivered a rousing message of support and spoke of the solidarity brought by MPs, particularly Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Richard Burgon and Apsana Begum, who have been a staunch supporters of the workers.
He also mentioned the Bart’s NHS Trust, who took strike action in February and have recently won their dispute with some 1,800 workers due to become direct NHS employees on full agenda for change pay terms and conditions. He also challenged his union, Unison, to take stronger action against the drive for outsourcing. Already rank-and-file union members are organising all over the UK. He ended by saying that the Gosh strikers have reminded us that “Joy, creative joy is an act of resistance.”
There were further impassioned speeches from Gosh strikers like Samuel and Mimi and from representatives from the University of the Arts London, “Kill the Bill” and Sisters Uncut, who highlighted the way that some workers and unions don’t always see the connectivity of actions and disputes but that the state clearly does. Hence, the draconian pieces of legislation passing through Parliament to repress workers and supress protest.
Ashley, who, as a young girl, owed her life to the staff of Gosh braved the microphone and gave an emotional speech supporting the strikers saying that “the way they were being treated was deplorable and unacceptable and that it was not true that patients were not supportive of the strikers.”
“We gonna fight; we gonna win”, We gonna fight, we gonna win” resounded around Queen’s Square as the strikers and supporters marched out.
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