Update Medirest Ealing Hospital Workers Strike, 17th of March 2014

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Mar 18 2014 08:40
Update Medirest Ealing Hospital Workers Strike, 17th of March 2014

Day 4 of 7-day strike of Medirest workers at Ealing Hospital, 17th of March 2014

Workers were being told by the GMB regional secretary to stay united and that the management were sweating about this seven day strike - the length of which is unusually long in this day and age. While it signals a combativeness and willingness to mean business on the side of the workers, it's obviously a risk: losing a weeks wages makes life difficult, even if the union do offer the workers some strike money, and if the management can withstand the hole in staffing for seven days without giving the workers what they want, they could probably do so again. In this sense the 'encouraging' words of the GMB official can end up creating illusions. Before entering the seven days strike the GMB had a negotiation meeting with management on the 10th of March, announcing that they would reconsider the strike if management made a decent offer. Entering the strike and having seen the ability of the company to bring in workers from other places, the GMB does not seem to have contacted other unions which organise Medirest workers at those hospitals, from which Medirest sources the 'scabs'. And it is quite a step for workers to do this independently.

The Medirest workers at Ealing Hospital face a considerable opponent. After all, Medirest is part of the Compass group, a very large corporation that has mass NHS contracts, as well as caters for high-profile sporting (horse race course etc.) and entertainment events. They are managing to get scabs into the hospital, but probably not enough to keep things on usual standards: one patient coming out of the hospital that we spoke to said the toilets hadn't been cleaned and things were looking a bit worse for wear.

A central plank of the strategy of hope that the union is invoking is based on the financial burden of the shipping in of the scabs and their vastly increased pay: the figure doing the rounds was £18 an hour. This is almost 3 times more than the Medirest workers on strike would normally get. Add on the transport costs to ferry them from various other parts of London and the meal tickets, times seven days, you get to a pretty large sum. The only trouble is 1) Is £18 actually what is being paid to the scabs? There are varying accounts, the scabs we asked said they weren't getting paid this much, just their regular wage, which, while is more than the minimum wage (£7-9), is not £18 an hour. But of course, they could be lying. Who knows? We tried to find out but couldn't. At any rate, there is uncertainty, which means relying on the fact that management are taking a big financial hit needs to be reconsidered. 2) Compass is huge and it's highly likely that even if they were paying £18 an hour for a reduced staff for 7 days, it will not make as much of a dent in their overall finances as we'd like to think.

So we suggested a kind of assembly meeting, which was difficult somehow to make happen. When we finally got people to quieten down and gather around to talk to each other, the dynamic of them listening to outsiders, somehow as an audience, was difficult to break. We suggested that some of them think about putting pressure on management in other ways e.g. going to the high-profile glitzy events the Compass Group caters for at FC Chelsea stadium, at Wembley Arena or the Queen Elizabeth Conference Hall and doing a demo there. As long as management can keep the workers on the roundabout, 20 meters away from the hospital, getting signatures for their petition, they can contain the struggle and isolate the workers. Showing up the company and talking to other Compass workers could break this impasse.


People agreed it was a good idea, but we're not sure whether they'll take up the idea yet. There is a division amongst the workers to the extent that decisions are deferred to the more 'outspoken' workers and reps. SWP were also in attendance and they asked if two of the women would come to SOAS to speak to the cleaners having a rally that afternoon ahead of their strike on Friday. This was also not successful because of childcare and other commitments, and probably lack of confidence and experience, although this was not expressed verbally.

We went into the hospital to hand out flyers to the patients and staff. Everyone was supportive of the strike. We spoke to one scab who was a porter from Kings College Hospital and he claimed not to know what was going on outside as a justification for his being there. He said he thought that the minimum wage was a 'government issue' and that he is just here to 'save lives'. If anyone has any contacts at Kings College, please get in touch so you can distribute flyers to Medirest workers there, telling them about the strike at Ealing and that they are not contractually obliged to work as scabs. We have attached a flyer that can be amended as necessary, or drop us a mail and we'll send it. This flyer was distributed by workers at Homerton Hospital before the strike, because the last 2 day strike saw quite a few scabs from Homerton. We don't know if these flyers had an impact, but the fact that one of the porters was from Kings, a hospital from which no scabs came to the last strike, shows that they are having to be bought in from other places this time around. Another 'scab' we spoke to was a young guy from Czech Republic, very sympathetic towards the strike. it was his first day at work at Ealing Hospital, he had been hired on a 1-month temporary contract by Compass Group.

The striking workers had attended a rally against the closure of Chase Farm hospital two weeks ago, making contact with workers there, telling them about their strike. Some scabs had supposedly come from Chase Farm during the last strike, so maybe this had an effect too.

Politically the most important element of this strike is that a largely 'migrant' and female workforce very clearly denounce the minimum wage, in slogans and on placards. This could catch on.

The strike will end on Friday 7 am. We will go to the picket on Thursday at 10 am and see what workers made of the strike and what they think about further action. Drop by!