Outsourced porters, cleaners and canteen staff at Ealing hospital are on 48 hour strike for higher wages.
We had a short visit at the Compass Medirest workers picket at Ealing Hospital. It's their second 48 hour strike, they plan further action in early March. They are 150 workers (GMB members), most of them working as porters, cleaners, housekeeping and in the canteen. Many of them working there for ten, fifteen years and they are still on the minimum wage of £6.31, even though Medirest workers doing the same jobs at other London hospitals get over £9. The atmosphere was very lively, especially when the Medirest boss came out only to instruct them to stay off the road for 'health and safety reasons'. A woman worker rightly pointed out that Medirest don' t give a shit about health and safety at work, e.g. cleaning workers are also supposed to feed patients on the same shift. This was followed by collective chants of "Medirest Bye Bye!". The whole thing feels very rank-and-file.
We will meet there tomorrow, Thursday, 20th of February again in order to hand out leaflets to the patients - the workers are not allowed to enter the hospital or go too near it during the strike. Would be great if you could make it for 10 am, though workers are in front of the hospital the whole day and night. Send us a message if you plan on coming or just see you there!
UPDATE FROM SECOND DAY OF STRIKE: Thursday 20th February, 2014
the atmosphere was lively, enthusiastic and angry! Even though it was raining and pretty miserable, the 60 or so striking workers who were present outside Ealing Hospital were loud and getting support from passers-by, staff and other Medirest workers, one of whom came to show his solidarity (he was a unison rep but insisted that he was there as a fellow medirest worker rather from the union). Some workers also mentioned they would be getting a visit from some local council workers over the road who were also in a dispute.
So because the workers have been banned from going too near the hospital and threatened with dismissal if they enter to distribute leaflets, we decided, as members of the public, to do just that. We printed up some flyers explaining a bit about the strike and which asked people to go and support them outside. We set about handing them out to patients and staff inside the hospital, all of whom were supportive and sympathetic- even the scabs! We managed to talk to a couple of them, who were Medirest workers taxi-ed over from other hospitals for the 48 hour strike. They had been told there was a strike, and they could have refused, but didn't, preferring instead to accept the reported £18 an hour strike-breaking wage. The ones we spoke to were from Homerton Hospital, so we think for the next strike, which is planned for early March, and will be a 5-day strike, that some of us should distribute flyers at Homerton to try and persuade other workers not to scab.
We accidentally handed a flyer to the Medirest manager, who promptly grilled us about who we were and that we weren't allowed in the building. When we told him we were members of the public and we had every right to be here, he threatened to call the police, which we told him to do if he wanted. We managed to give out quite a few leaflets before security started pushing us out. We think this is a good tactic to keep up the pressure so for the next strike, if 'members of the public' take it in turns to go in and hand our flyers until we are chucked out, it'll demonstrate that they can't keep the strike out of sight and at arms length.
While workers we spoke to were supportive of the GMB union and their rep, they also said that it had taken a year and a half to get to this stage, having formerly put in a demand to management, which was ignored. Repeated attempts had also failed, which is why they were forced into strike action. They said everything was legal and above board so that nobody could be sacked. This is apparently the first strike to happen at Ealing Hospital, and it's the first strike of the union rep.
There are ideas for them to link up with cleaners at the Justice for Cleaners campaign at SOAS, who are going on strike on the 4th and 5th March. We have some contact names and numbers of the Ealing Hospital workers so get in touch if you have any other solidarity ideas.