Year 2000 No. 185, November 1, 2000
Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :
Rover Workers to Vote on Pay Deal in the Context of Further Pressure to Make the Company Successful
What Was Said at the Conference of Dudley Hospital Workers
NHS News In Brief
New Private Sector Partnership Put on Formal Footing
Dramatic Rise in Cost of Generic Drugs
Shortage of Beds in East Kent Causing Concern
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Ballots will be held at MG Rover's Longbridge plant within the next couple of days to decide on the proposed pay deal. The deal is worth only 4 percent and indicates how the Phoenix consortium, headed by John Towers, intends to raise the necessary finance for the future of Rover. As suspected, it will involve more belt tightening by the workers in the inexorable drive to make the company competitive.
The deal comes at a time when Towers has said that he does foresee a time in the next few years when the company will be completely sold off. The company is already following a similar path planned by the venture capitalist company, Alchemy, converting the orientation towards the MG logo and concentrating on specific marques that are profitable. BMW decided to keep the Mini and the last old style car, which has held the name for many years, rolled of the production line recently. Redundancies at Longbridge and also cutbacks at suppliers have continued to rise in recent months.
Under the proposed pay deal, the average weekly pay of a dayshift worker would from November 1 rise by no more than £12, with a further rise of £8 in January. The company is planning to eliminate an important proposed working hours reduction in return for a cash payment. This move represents an intensification of the working week and signals that productivity is the key to pushing the company towards maximum profitability. Employees hours were due to be cut from 36 to 35, but under the proposed deal the working week would revert to 37 hours.
The workers at Longbridge have just returned from a week-long Autumn shutdown to be faced with this union-management proposed arrangement. Pressure is being put on workers by the union leadership to accept deals which undermine their existing wages and conditions. In the short term the Phoenix Consortium was held up to be the "way-out" of the crisis facing Longbridge. After the huge demonstration in Birmingham against the BMW proposals to sell to Alchemy, workers returned to work under tested-and-tried managers like John Towers, who workers had had experience of before. Many workers have seen Phoenix as a way to maintain volume production at the Longbridge plant. Some plant and machinery has been moved from Oxford already but investment is still lacking to ensure the future of large-scale production.
The experience of workers at Longbridge has been that again and again a secure future has been promised in return for the workers bartering their rights, only to find that all the capitalists are concerned with is success in the global marketplace. Each time the workers have had to put up with arrangements that increase exploitation. Profitable parts of the company (if not the whole) have been sold off to various transnational companies. Now MG Rover is once more in the position of denying press speculation that the company could be sold to bus manufacturer Mayflower. The company, however, claims to be involved in talks with an unidentified company. Some workers at Longbridge staged a demonstration to protest at the newspaper rumours that the future of the company is in doubt.
However, the situation remains the same for the Rover workers, as indeed all car producers in this volatile and highly competitive area of production. Workers must not abandon the fight for their interests. At the same time, they must develop the consciousness and organisation required to fight for their independent programme for a new society. All workers have to deliberate on this problem.
At the conference, held on Saturday, October 7, in Dudley on fighting PFI and privatisation, Mark New, UNISON branch secretary and chief strike organiser said:
"The conference comes at a critical period of the strike. We should be proud of what we have done so far. It is not only against a management that refuses to listen, but we know that in the background there is a government that refuses to listen as well. This is one of the longest and biggest strikes in the history of the NHS. The strikers can be rightly proud. We have had support from the West Midlands, Britain and across the world from Russia, Australia, Philippines, California and so on. We have even had support from delegates to the Labour Party Conference but we need support from the whole of the labour movement.
"We have a letter from the Regional Department of Health, which says that 78 percent of the current PFI in Dudley is concerned with staff, 20 percent only is concerned with the buildings and that is why they are pushing this so much. The government has now nailed its colours to the mast in support of the NHS trust. They are no longer in the background, therefore we need to mobilise the whole community, the rank and file workers and public."
A trades unionist from the RMT, representing London Underground workers, said:
"In 1998, the government announced its plans for the London Underground. It covered the backlog of the investment, which everyone knows was needed. We find ourselves in the absurd position of being told that the New Labour government would tax the rich for the investment, which they were elected to do. The New Labour government announced its plans to partially privatise the engineering and maintenance and the infrastructure. In other words, sell us off to the private sector. This would be a three-year strategy to recognise the privatisation to take effect next year. Within three months we had everyone on the streets and balloted everyone. Although it did not directly affect everyone, in 1998 we had a strike. We went back to the negotiating table to see if there was any more sense, which resulted in another ballot and we had another strike on New Years Eve 1998. Anti-trade-union laws, brought in by the Tories, were used against us in December 98 in the High Court in London by the government (which still owns the underground), to stop us from taking industrial action (even though we had been through all of the ballots). They used specific legislation saying that it was a political strike. This came from the mouth of John Prescott, the Minister of Transport. Secondly, the Lord Chief Justice said that he had to take into consideration public order and safety on New Years Eve. We re-balloted our members on another issue to do with privatisation in the February of 99.
"They were quite astute in what they had done; they have not immediately privatised the operations side. One group is privatised and one isnt this is to divide the workforce. We decided then to make it a political issue. Why did we stop the strike at that stage? Other unions went down another road, which left us in an invidious position. The majority of workers were being privatised and two campaigns were set up in London: one was called the Listen to London Campaign and the other, the Campaign against Tube Privatisation for workers and commuters. The workers lobbied the Greater London Authority we should keep Ken Livingstone to the promise to stop the PPP. He said legal action was in the offing by the London Mayor against the PPP and there is going to be demonstration on October 23. Later we will be back on the picket lines for the industrial campaign. We must engage the people as well as the workers."
Ron Dorman from CAEF said:
"The EU wants privatisation and wants to limit the percentage of GDP to 39 percent for public spending. £3bn is the target for the Euro and also they are going to use the money saved for the changeover for the Euro (tills, slot machines, etc.)." He went to say that all campaigns against cuts in public spending have a common thread and that is why we should support the Charter for Social Justice launched this year. He hoped that everyone would sponsor the Charter and help bring together all organised groups.
The 378 Branch secretary from South Wales spoke. He said:
"People in South Wales are beginning to understand the importance of the strike and the struggle against PFI." He went on to say that their branch officers had decided to recommend to donate £1,500 to the dispute in Dudley because they recognised that if we do not defeat PFI then it would be the end of the NHS as we know it.
The speaker from 433 Branch said:
"What they are interested in, that is the PFI company, is whether you are profitable enough. At UCLH what we did was to generate as much support as possible outside UCLH. This was not just trade union branch meetings of health workers, but every aspect of the community. We got invited to address pensioners and fire fighters. They said that they could not afford fire stations but spent millions on Canary Wharf. We spoke to small community groups. What people started to realise was that we are up against the system, which says profit first and people second. What you must realise about Dudley is that you must have a political understanding of the world in order to understand the issues.
"The most interesting thing is that when we marched at lunchtime, people were clapping on the pavement. What this showed was that people of this country know who provides the NHS and this is not a tired and sterile debate. Politicians should stand up for public services financed by the public sector and provided by public servants."
The speaker went on to say, " Its all right to criticise the Tories, but New Labour is carrying on the tired policies. What do we do if the alternative to the Tories is only Labour? We have been looking at regaining old methods of organisation and the idea that has come to the front is Socialism. A word is used a lot at UCLH and that is capitalism and anti-capitalism, and in fact we took a delegation to Prague. People realise that Balfour Beatty is building a dam in Turkey on Kurdish Land and building hospitals in London at UCLH making £600m profit. We must articulate that there is an alternative to the market system and that is Socialism."
A floor speaker said:
"What was said about making the dispute national, having national demonstrations and things like that, I agree with. Also the fact that UNISON has not agreed yet to make it national. People obviously want this, but in the meantime we could possibly have a West Midlands demonstration. We have as well as Dudley a dispute about privatisation in Coventry at the Walgrave, and also we have the dispute in Selly Oak and Birmingham at the Queen Elizabeth."
A speaker who is on strike from 464 Branch said:
"If Tony Blair had turned up today I would like to have asked him what is happening to our money, where has it gone?
"The money we pay, as taxes, should be used for hospitals and fighting crime and things like that. Where is it going? We are being told that the limits on public spending are such and such a percent but there is no limit to the government spending on their own luxuries. Its our money; we should have a say on where it is going. It should be going to where it is needed."
An activist of RCPB(ML) said:
"What has actually happened in this strike is to focus my mind and I have no doubt others too on the real question and that is, What kind of health service do we want? What we have to take to the community is about the future of our health service. By its very nature the health service strike has to be political because of the very fact that you are involved in an area that is automatically linked to a pro-social programme. It is different from Rover and the narrowing of the argument to Phoenix or Alchemy. Even in that dispute we are trying to raise the issue of what kind of system can guarantee a livelihood for car producers. The strike in the health service raises the question of why ancillary workers should be put in this position just because the government wants to privatise them. Why should there be a struggle to find nurses, doctors, equipment, and so on? The health service should be seen as being there as a basic human right and shouldnt be dependent on a private company putting in money or not, or whether we can afford this or that in the service. It should be guaranteed with the supply of all its requirements and free at the point of delivery to all."
Amongst other things concerned with the transnational companies interests in privatisation, the speaker said:
"It is important to develop the arguments and consciousness around the crucial question of the health service where those that are inside and outside of the health service take part. It is important to open up the debate and call upon the vast experience that people have in order to defend and even develop the discussion centred around this particular social programme. The question of What kind of health service do we want? raises the political profile of the issue and raises the question of the system that supplies that service. Only in this way can the whole country and working class engage in changing the direction of society and develop the whole struggle against PFI."
Another striker spoke, saying:
"The support from around the country and abroad has been brilliant. We must take a leaf from the Hillingdon workers and fight until we win. This government is not going to change anything with Tony Blair. We deserve better, we know we are not going to get that. The workers need to stay united and stick together until we win."
Another strike from UNISON Branch 521 spoke, saying:
"Im not used to stranding up front, but I think its about time we all did. You dont need to be nervous. We need to go outside the union and get the public involved. They hear of privatisation, but do they really know what it is? Do they really know what is happening at their local hospital? Do they know what is going to happen next? The public are the ones who vote them into power, but once they get in they dont do what they should. We now have to go out to other union branches and community centres wherever there are people, whether they are going to be involved now, next year or five years time. The government is going to reduce everything until there is nothing in the public sector any more. The workers must create a network like a spider web. On our own we cannot do anything but together we can get what we need."
An ex-miner, who is now on the NEC of UNISON, spoke after the lunch break. He said:
"Listening to the Bolivian miner who spoke earlier in his solidarity message, I thought back to the miners strike of 84-85. I dont want to harp back to it because it was nearly 20 years ago. But I remember during those dark days of winter that the miners felt really downhearted because if the deputies had had a national meeting and a mandate to come out on strike the pits would have stopped completely. The national leaders had sold them out, no doubt about it. This was well recorded.
"The miners in Bolivia had nothing, they had to live on everything from the employers, yet they were sending us money. We were getting support all across the world. This makes you realise what worker solidarity is. I am proud to be on the NEC and a fighting rank and file member who has been put there to do a specific job and intends to do it.
"In Scotland in local government, Blair and the employers have offered two and a half percent where others have been offered three. There have been massive actions they all got strike pay. Just because of bureaucracy and rules they dont get it in Dudley. Why? Why dont they make it a national action? The reason for PFI is profit. What someone said before is right, we are the people with the social conscience, we are the people who make the public services work, we should be the people who are supported in that. "
Dr Kay Phillips from Manchester spoke, saying:
"I apologise, as I am also not used to public speaking. We are not here to congratulate Dudley strikers. I am going to tell you about my experiences about going around wards and clinics and branches. This week was inspirational and everyone was saying, Thank god that someone is giving some resistance! I am a GP in Manchester and work with the homeless. The sense of anger and despair I have felt when these cuts have gone through on a daily basis, first Conservative and now New Labour! Orthopaedic beds cut by half after five days people sent home after a hip replacement; three days after hysterectomy. Private companies now deal with dermatology where they take a picture of a rash and send it via the internet to a private consultant who sends the results by fax. This is a second rate service. Private companies are making a profit out of it. Every day I get furious about this and a sense of frustration. I cant do anything on my own and what has happened here is that people are standing up with resistance. We need to shout about it widely. We went round clinics, and so on. Although the branches passed resolutions and collected money they didnt know what was going on. When we told people of it they said, What strike? and, Why hasnt the press told us about it? The longest strike in the history of the NHS and Thank god someone has done something!
"Every single health worker and public service worker has got to take an interest we all use the NHS! What do we mean by talking to the rank and file? I think it is by what we were doing last week, going to the wards. Automatically people are putting their hands in their pockets and ask, Are you coming back next week?
"People look at what the government has decided to do: they dont care about the people who voted them in, this is their flagship privatising public services. I like the fact that they look a bit weak, firstly the fuel crisis and then the problems with the pensions, because there was mass public support for those things and they were scared of national demonstrations taken by pensioners. They all know that the mass of the population will support them."
The next speaker was the UNISON 367 Branch, Selly Oak, steward, who said:
"The discussion at our hospital is really about fighting back. We have PFI coming up on us before one hospital is built. We see ancillary work and records being sold down the river. This means we have to do something now. I think the resolution is really good as it takes things up a notch. The best things at Selly Oak have been lunchtime protests about staffing levels and pay. People have been fantastic."
The next speaker from UCLH said:
"At UCLH we balloted our nurses to take industrial action and they went on strike in support of ancillary workers. You need to be constantly raising the anti. You are 600 and its not your job just to be collecting money for the strike but to politically educate people why you are fighting here. What will PFI mean to them? People have to understand why politically the union leadership is not giving the steel of leadership. When you are fighting PFI, ask them why they had expelled the branch chairman and branch secretary from UCLH allegedly for breaking some anti-trade-union laws. You have a big strike compared to what we had we had 250 on strike. In London, we had two demonstrations outside Frank Dobsons house and a group of nurses slept outside to show the implications of the sell-off of the nurses home as part of the PFI bid."
The government yesterday signed a so-called "peace treaty" with the private health sector, to put on a formal footing the relationship between the NHS and the private sector for the first time.
Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, signed the "Concordat with the Private and Voluntary Health Care Provider Sector", under which the NHS will be encouraged to pay commercial rates for taking up so-called spare capacity in this sector.
The Concordat covers:
· The use of private operating theatres and facilities to carry out elective surgery (non-emergency surgery);
· The transfer of patients to or from the NHS and private sector when their condition is critical and it is clinically appropriate to make best use of the expertise and facilities available;
· The use of facilities in private and voluntary organisations to provide rehabilitative care for the elderly.
The Concordat says: "There should be no organisational or ideological barriers to the delivery of high quality healthcare free at the point of delivery to those who need it, when they need it." But it does not appear to explain why there should be a need for the private sector, over which there is to be long-term capacity planning and for which the National Health Service is to pay market rates.
Last year, the NHS spent around £1.25 billion on purchasing health care from the private sector. This figure is likely to increase sharply over the next few years as a result of the Concordat.
Prescribing budgets of health authorities have been hit by a dramatic and unexpected rise in the cost of generic drugs. The prices of some of those for high blood pressure and heart failure rose eight-fold. For example, prescriptions from family doctors and nurse prescribers in East Kent topped £65.7 million in the year 1999-2000, which was £1.5 million over budget and more than 10 per cent higher than the previous year.
South East Kent Community Health Council says it is concerned that there are not enough beds in East Kents three main hospitals to cope with present needs, let alone any winter pressure.
The health watchdog says that in the past few weeks these main hospitals have been consistently under pressure to take GP admissions, and it is worried there are not enough beds within the remodelled hospital reorganisation to cope with present and future needs.
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