UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

NHS Pay Dispute - Where Next?

On Monday thousands of NHS workers took to the picket lines for the second time in six weeks. Following the huge success of the action on 13th October, 9 health unions called their members out for a further 4 hours strike on 24th November.
    The action demonstrated a few important things.
     Firstly the public still remains supportive of the health workers case. Picket lines across the country received messages of support from the public with representatives of non health unions turning up in solidarity. Secondly the mood among members is still angry and determined, and thirdly the government does not yet feel sufficiently worried to try and resolve the dispute.

The big challenge now is to determine a strategy to win this dispute. How do we galvanise the huge public support into a potent weapon which puts real pressure on this government to move its position? Hunt is defiant, for him this is not about affordability, his is a longer term strategy to undermine the national bargaining structure in health.

This means pressure will need to be applied to the weaker areas of the coalition. The Lib-Dems are an obvious route, as are Tory MPs in marginal constituencies. There needs to be local activities between days of action. These should include demonstrations around specific targets, lobbying NHS Trust Boards, local Clinical Commissioning Groups, as well as MP and Councillors’ surgeries. A momentum needs to be built and sustained. Keeping a high profile public campaign going will build pressure on the government. It will ensure the NHS and health workers will remain high on the political and media agenda.

But the industrial strategy is as important and needs reviewing. The mood is still strong but it needs to be harnessed to avoid it dissipating. Speaking to staff on picket lines the strong view is that the action must be escalated. Four hour strikes every six weeks will not deliver success. October 13th was a magnificent kick off to the campaign and although Monday's action was generally well supported there is a recognition that more has to be done. Merely repeating this action will only allow the employers to adapt to the action.

Consideration should be given to more varied and longer stoppages. A different day, different times and moving towards a full 24 hours should all be part of the strategy. Examining the possibility of a rolling programme of strikes by different groups of workers throughout the day.

Union branches and members need to have some ownership of the dispute and early engagement with members to discuss the best activity will ensure maximum support and hopefully ultimately success.

NHS workers must be congratulated for the action so far, but the time has arrived to take the dispute into the next phase.

This dispute can and must be won. It will need the full support of the NHS Staff and the public as well as the whole trade union movement. It is time to escalate the action and force the government into making concessions.