A battle is taking place over New Labour’s plans for the NHS Logistics agency. The workers deserve the widest possible solidarity, writes Joseph Choonara
Workers who supply hospitals across England were set to strike this week as part of their battle against privatisation. It will be the first national strike in the NHS for 18 years.
The government intends to hand NHS Logistics and parts of the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency to DHL, a German firm best known as a parcel courier, in a deal worth £3.7 billion a year.
Almost 1,000 members of the Unison union at five NHS Logistics depots were balloted. They voted by 74 percent for action on a 66 percent turnout.
The workers, based at Alfreton in Derbyshire, Maidstone in Kent, Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, Runcorn in Cheshire and Normanton in West Yorkshire, were organising rotas for picket lines as Socialist Worker went to press.
The 24-hour strike was set to begin at 10pm on Thursday of this week. Unison is also planning a judicial review of the privatisation plan, which is set to come into effect on 1 October.
Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said of the workers, “They have a very strong sense of loyalty to the NHS and have worked hard to make NHS Logistics a highly competitive, innovative NHS service.
“Last year it delivered savings to trusts of £2.8 million - cash that can be ploughed back into frontline services. NHS Logistics has a fantastic track record on innovation and awards for efficiency. There can be absolutely no justification for privatising this service.”
Chris Kowalczyk, Unison branch secretary at the Normanton depot, told Socialist Worker, “We had our branch meeting last Saturday and I think we’re going to get a good response from members. We’ve got lots of volunteers for picket lines on each of the shifts.
“Quite a few of us used to be miners and I was in the
1984-5 Miners’ Strike. But many of the workers are young men and women who have never been on strike before.
“Obviously people are nervous about going on strike - but we’re also keen to show DHL and the government what we think.
“We hope that members of other unions will come along to our picket line and support our action.”
Paul Harper is the Unison branch secretary for the Maidstone depot and also sits on the union’s health service group executive.
He said, “People are still very much up for it. We’re expecting a good turnout during the strike.”
After the strike Paul plans to join other union members on transport to Manchester, where demonstrators will gather at the Labour Party conference. “We’ll be taking buckets and doing collections for the strike fund,” said Paul.
“These are low paid workers who need to be supported.”
Members of other trade unions and left wing Labour leadership hopeful John McDonnell were expected to visit picket lines in solidarity with the striking workers.
A lobby of the Labour conference is also planned on Wednesday of next week when Unison general secretary Dave Prentis is set to address delegates and criticise the government’s plans.
A second 24-hour strike will take place from 10pm on Tuesday of next week, coinciding with the Labour Party health debate.
Rush messages of support and donations to NHS Logistics Unison, St Barnabus Close, Allington, Maidstone, Kent ME16 0LW.
The workers at NHS Logistics urgently need money for their fighting fund. Make cheques payable to “Unison - NHS Logistics Dispute”.
To donate online, go to www.unison.org.uk and follow the links to the Logistics campaign page