The NHS provides excellent care to all, from cradle to grave, free at the point of use, regardless of ability to pay. This outstanding achievement would not be possible without the dedicated workers of the NHS who enable it to function. However years of privatisation and “efficiency savings”, including the outsourcing of jobs to private contractors, are beginning to have a serious impact upon the NHS. Vital support staff such as cleaners, security, and porters have so far borne the brunt of the privatisation of staff, which has lead to worse working conditions and pay cuts. While private companies are able to milk the public purse for billions each year, privatisation also makes the service worse, enabling businesses and the government to promote further privatisation as the solution.

Serco is one of the biggest beneficiaries of privatisation within the NHS. In December 2016 they were awarded a 10-year contract, worth £600m, to manage the facilities of the Barts Health NHS Trust. They immediately earned the enmity of cleaners and porters by trying to do away with paid 15-minute breaks, leading to 120 cleaners stopping work until the breaks were won back from Serco. Currently all of Serco’s workers earn the London ‘living wage’ (£9.75 an hour) but increasing living costs have forced many to take on second jobs. Serco have rejected the demands of the cleaners, porters, and security staff (many of whom are members of Unite) of an hourly increase of 30p, calling their existing wages “generous”. It is a modest demand, considering Serco earned £82m in profit last year, but one that would make a big difference to the lives of the people who actually earn that profit for Serco.

Privatisation does not only impact upon a persons pay, working conditions are also affected. One cleaner stated “I am now doing the job of three people. I have people following me telling me to clean more beds, more rooms. I’ve started doing the jobs of healthcare assistants and have received no extra training. My colleagues working in the kitchen are doing the same. Many of us have extra jobs and we are so tired and cannot do our jobs properly. I hurt everywhere when I get home and all I do now is eat and sleep.”

Serco workers on strike
Serco workers on strike

Serco workers have been left with no option but to strike for a wage which they can live on and to halt regressive changes to their working conditions. The Barts Health NHS trust has become the focal point. Strike action began on 4 July when 99% of Unite members who took part in a strike ballot voted in favour of strike action. These strikes have continued throughout July, and more are planned throughout August and September as Serco has not made any substantial concessions during talks with the union.

Serco are profiting off of hardworking, low-paid staff, and the joy of the shareholders, as their bank balances grow, is at the expense of their employees. Their extra profits depend on staff struggling to afford basic necessities such as housing, food, and travel. Only the meanest of people could call Serco’s business model a success. If the support staff at the Barts Health NHS Trust win their dispute for better pay and conditions against Serco, it may lead to private sector staff at other NHS Trusts taking similar action to improve their lot. Perhaps this is why Serco are so unwilling to relent, despite the resolve of the strikers showing no sign of weakening.

Decent pay and working conditions are not provided by employers because of their generosity, they exist because working class people have demanded and fought for them. The interests of an employer are always in direct opposition to that of their workers, and will remain a source of conflict until the working class do away with capitalism. Capitalists will continue to demand that employees work harder, for less money. Slogans such as a “fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work” misdirect the working class and leave them impotent, as it is the entire exploitative wages system we must do away with! The profit that companies make is not because of business acumen or genius as the ruling class would have us believe, all profit is derived from paying a worker less than the value they produce. Capitalism could not function without this simple truth.

The CPGB-ML stands in solidarity with the Serco workers who are struggling for better pay and working conditions, and we encourage everyone, locally and nationally, to support the strike as well. It can be done; recently cleaners at the London School of Economics won a major victory when their strike action forced LSE to take all cleaning staff back in-house, and to stop using exploitative agencies.

Join the pickets!

Donate to the strike fund!

Victory to the striking Serco workers!

Download, share, and print: Save Our NHS: Support the Serco strikers!