Basic overview of the terrain that health workers defending their terms and conditions is being fought on; Fighting both their employers, as well as a supine and complicit trade union bureaucracy. Written by a Solidarity Federation/Anarchist Federation dual carder and Unison steward working in Healthcare.
UK health workers find themselves under the biggest attack on wages and terms and conditions in living memory.
The background to this are the long, slow moves to fragment the public health service into discreet trusts 1. These trusts are expected to compete on equal footing with other trusts, as well as private and third sector providers in a regulated marketplace. This has been rapidly accelerated by the passing of the recent Health and Social Care act 2012 2
Negotiations to introduce national pay and conditions were introduced in 1999 by the previous Labour administration and finally came into effect in 2004. This national pay agreement is known as ‘Agenda for Change’. It covers all members of staff excluding doctors, dentists and very senior managers. Previous to this job banding varied hugely and was based on the old Whitley Council system (introduced during in 1917 to placate growing demands for Workers’ control of industry and essentially unchanged since then). The NHS as a whole in England employs just under 1.5 million staff, making it by far the largest employer in the country.
Agenda for Change introduced an agreement where, at least in theory, job roles are all banded at a similar level irrespective of their geographical location. Pay is matched to the job rather than individual.
Within each pay band are a variable amount of spine points, at the end of each year’s service workers ascend to the next spine point. This proceeds until they have reached the top of the banding. 3 In addition to this there is the nationally negotiated annual pay award. Following an on-going commitment introduced in 2010 to freeze public sector pay, this currently stands at 0% for those earning over £21k, or a £250 flat rate rise if under. Factoring in inflation rises this is essentially a pay cut for nearly every worker in the NHS. 60% of NHS workers have yet to reach their final salary spine point, so in reality progression through these is the only thing helping keep wages stagnant, as opposed to falling, for a majority of workers.
“MARKET FACING PAY” “PAY MODERNISATION” ”REGIONAL PAY”
As part of the current government’s commitment to austerity, plans were devised for top down attempts to break national pay agreements. These have been abandoned during the autumn budget statement in favour of leaving it to the market, though there remains behind the scenes a hand on the political tiller giving succour to trusts that chose to opt out. 4 A back door for pay flexibility was via the introduction of Foundation trusts under Labour. Foundation trusts have the theoretical right to opt out of national pay and conditions, though in practice only Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust chose to do this. Up till now this remains the only trust currently outside Agenda for change. There have been attempts by individual trusts to opt out of this agreement, especially those burdened with crippling PFI debt repayments. These have been defeated at a local level, mainly due to the threat of employees gravitating towards the competing local trusts with better terms and conditions, something facilitated by the national agreement allowing employees to keep accrued salary progression. With this in mind a consortium of 20 healthcare trusts in the South West, dubbed the ‘pay cartel’, got together to collectively force through the slashing of workers’ terms and conditions. 5
In addition to this local agreements have been attacked. North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust which employs 5500 workers has instigated pay downgrading, with neighbouring trusts threatening similar action. 6
At the Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust are set to embark on a five day strike over similar plans to downgrade job roles. 7
Representatives of the approximately 20 trade unions who collectively bargain for workers within the NHS have been negotiating at length with the pay cartel. As it stands the deal on the table to “protect” Agenda for Change in England (Scotland and Wales are not affected) is:
1) Performance Related Pay to be introduced with exact implementation to be decided locally. (protected for the lowest paid worker, those in bands 1+2 and first 3 points of band 3). This is the major, major change here. Speaking to UCU members who have seen similar performance related pay in some universities, they inform me that this a form of gatekeeping that unsurprisingly this amounts to a major attack on their ability to earn this money. Unreasonable expectations or unsuitable criteria to set in place, where it can actually be logistically impossible to ever proceed up pay points.
Performance related pay is also currently being fought by teaching unions 8, so would possibly seem to represent the beginnings of a pay model for public sector workers.
2) The removal of preceptorship. This is a pay device that allows newly qualified registered nurses, midwives and allied health professionals to initially proceed at an accelerated rate through their pay points.
3) An agreement to accept strict sickness absence policies and the removal of any payments associated anti-social hour’s rate. This will inordinately affect all care giving staff, who are of course expected to provide a round the clock, 365 days a year service.
4) Staff on bands 8c, 8d and 9 to be placed on a ‘spot salary’. This translates as “pay as low as they think the market can bear”. Whilst these are management roles with the power to hire and fire and instigate structural change, they are also the pay bands responsible for deciding on pay and conditions. From a pragmatic point of view and being clear about the role of the market in this, opting them out of a national agreement is unlikely to engender a desire to fight for agenda for change if they themselves are already opted out of it.
Out of these 20 trade unions (number of healthcare workers they represent in brackets), GMB (30,000) and Unite (100,000) have the rejected the deal out of hand. Unite have explicitly said they are preparing for industrial action in the event of any opting out of Agenda for Change. Other unions have said they intend to accept them, but most including Unison (400,000) and Royal College of Nursing (380,000) are consulting their members with guidance to accept the measures. 9
These moves show that a majority of health trade bureaucracies to be utterly complicit in what amounts to a managed decline of a workers’ T&Cs. The industrial relations equivalent of, “we had to destroy the village in order to save it”. Even on their own terms Unison states that by agreeing with these proposals may still result in trusts continuing to seek to leave the national agreement.
“While there is no guarantee that agreeing to these proposals will hold 100% of trusts in England to AfC, the Health SGE believes these would hold the majority and will be consulting branches to get better information on this.” 10
However with guarantees for unions to have a consultative role in any job re-gradings, and to being involved with local performance related pay structures, the union will retain its primary representative function. When push comes to shove, this is the fundamental bottom line for unions. That is the right to represent workers, including the right to a “consultative role” even if that consultation leads to poor outcomes for their members. In fact we can see how important this role is, how it sees actions by its members as secondary to its own from in this passage, taken from the accompanying Unison consultation briefing (italics by author):
“Over the last year, a number of NHS trusts in England have tried to „break away‟ from Agenda for Change. Members in these trusts have had to organise, campaign and take industrial action to try and stop the employers reducing terms and conditions and moving to local contracts. If members reject these proposals it is likely that the number of these attacks would increase significantly, requiring more members to take action to defend their conditions.” 11
Of course Unison sells the removal of hard, fought T&Cs as a victory. If it can pass these changes it will accept them as the least worse option rather than risk the unpredictable nature of a demobilised rank and file organising initiative, that will be either sclerotic through underuse or even worse from their view point, has the potential to not be under the full control of the union. Unison made its playbook clear during the recent pensions' dispute. Even with a mandate it did not risk anything more than tokenistic one day strike action. 12
So these moves are a clear attempt to gauge exactly how much the membership will take. Any union member in a branch organised enough to arrange this consultation would be advised to reject this slow erosion of T&Cs and stress the need to lay officers and fellow workers of the need for sustained industrial action to defeat them. If your trade union branch recommends these measures then it makes clear the need for all workers, clinical or administrative, on all kinds of contracts to organise and meet and organise outside the union where necessary.
The fight continues.
- 1. http://libcom.org/library/driving-nhs-market
- 2. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/7/contents/enacted
- 3. http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/working-in-the-nhs/pay-and-benefits/agenda-for-change-pay-rates/
- 4. http://www.ome.uk.com/Document/Default.aspx?DocumentUid=43EE7D69-8575-4572-9976-B5E0B31B39C8
- 5. https://skwalker1964.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/explosive-exclusive-how-the-south-west-nhs-pay-cartel-plans-to-reward-incentivise-staff/
- 6. www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/2012/10/26/north-tees-and-hartlepool-nhs-foundation-trust-staff-in-protest-84229-32108121/
- 7. http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=30413
- 8. http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/17337
- 9. http://www.unison.org.uk/healthcare/a4c/consultation.asp
- 10. http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/UNISON_Briefing_AfC_proposals.pdf
- 11. http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/AfC_FAQs.pdf
- 12. http://libcom.org/blog/fight-our-lives-analysis-uk-pensions-disputes-31102012
The following statements are by member organisations of the International of Anarchist Federations (IFA-IAF), http://i-f-a.org
See also previous article on AF website: http://www.afed.org.uk/blog/international/332-solidarity-with-the-squatters-of-villa-amalia-reports-from-athens.html
FAI. Anarchist Federation (Italy) - 13 January 2013
SUPPORT THE STRUGGLES OF THE GREEK COMRADES (translation from Italian)
The National Congress of the FAI, reunited in Milan, expresses its solidarity with the Greek comrades who in recent days have been violently attacked by the police Hellenic. We have seen evacuation of Villa Amalias and Skaramaga, historical squat symbol of the Athenian movement and the arrest of hundreds of solidarity that had reoccupied the building of Villa Amalias.
The anarchist movement in Greece has built up, in recent years, a strong response from the bottom up for the ruthless raid conducted against the workers.
A response made with direct actions, reappropriation of physical spaces, organizing popular assemblies in neighborhoods, self-management in the workplace.
A response that refuses whatever form of delegation that imprison the will to change this system that shows every day, his limitations. A response that has been able to gather around if 'tens of thousands of people, workers, students, unemployed, Greeks and immigrants, because the fight is all the exploited, whatever their origin. An answer that scares the bosses and the state not only because it shows that there is an alternative to social atomization, alienation and exploitation but that this alternative is needed now more than ever.
It is necessary because it is now clear that the domain of state and capital do nothing but destroy any social relationship that is not mediated by money or by relations of domination. Necessary because the crisis is impoverishing the working classes and the middle classes is nothing more than yet another robbery carried out by those who manage money and power.
The Greeks comrades have been able to build a response to this crime and for this reason they are under attack by the police, who said he wanted to clear all occupations, supported in this by the paramilitary Nazi Golden Dawn. It is no coincidence that in times of crisis and popular mobilizations apparatuses of the state use the low level manpower of the fascists. So it was in Italy in the Red Biennium, so it is in Greece in 2013.
In fact, Greece is not far from the Italian peninsula. Here, too, the state is wiping out the results of a century of labor struggles and popular. Here too the state is attacking the social movements, evacuates the sites occupied, raid against the workers in struggle, shooting tear gas against students, beating up the ones who opposing to environmental devastation and to militarism. For this it is necessary to reject the nationalist vision of the crisis, the one nonsense of monetary sovereignty and national level as response at the Europe of banks, of the anthropological differences that create the crisis, referring to racist's theses and sad, a distorted vision that will ensure a greater strengthening the mechanisms of discipline and domination of the state and which is expressed in its most complete form, in the sacrifice of the subaltern classes on the altar of nationalist wars.
The struggles of anarchists in Greece are our struggles, our struggles are those of the Greek anarchists. So how are our struggles of those who, throughout the world, oppose to the exploitation classist, racist and sexist, and builds, daily, a society of free and equal.
We invite the whole movement at the maximum possible solidarity.
Federation of Anarchist Organising (in Slovenia)
Želja po svobodi je močnejša od vsakega zapora! 13 January 2013
We read the following on libcom about the Belfast Flag protests. Worth a look. Article by 'Belfast comrade' via Liverpool Solfed plus comments with link to WSM ones.
Assault on Villa Amalia – report by an AF comrade in Greece, 20 December 2012
(Followed by further reports from Athens by the Liberatarian Communist Group and the Squatters, 22 Deceember 2012)
The squatter's movement arrived in Greece during the early and mid-nineties, and has since established itself as a popular form of peaceful, all-inclusive form of activism bringing together anarchists and autonomists from all over the world. Based on the principle of repatriating public and private space to the hands of local community use, squatting spaces aim to replace commercial and state functions with an environment of direct democracy, mutual labour and an oasis for alternative socio-political and cultural expression.
Located in the centre of Athens, the Villa Amalia squat is one of the oldest of its kind in the city – boasting twenty-two years of existence. Like many other forms of occupation, it has had a traditionally strenuous relationship with authorities, which have attempted to infiltrate, sabotage and literarily starve it of supplies and access from its first days. It’s not the first time we’ve heard about it on the news, but a surprise police raid on the premises at approximately 07:00 am has sent events spiralling into action. Eight squatters, six Greek and two of possible German nationality, were arrested on sight and remain detained in the police headquarters nearby, as activists from several anarchist, autonomist and squatting groups gathered across the street where the raid was being carried out in solidarity of the detained. In their announcement, comrades stated that they will remain in the vicinity and are increasing in number.
The police intervention, hailed on statist, right wing and Golden Dawn-sympathetic blogs as a heroic purge of what they interpret to be brothels of chaos and disorder, continued throughout the day as they conducted a search of the premises. Police forces were accompanied by a comrade who witnessed the procedures.
Squats, in contrast to their portrayal as centres of terrorism, drug abuse and alcoholism, play an active community role in protecting the neighbourhoods from fascists, human trafficking and the illegal sex and drug trade. There are many voices in society who, despite not identifying with left-libertarian principles, have risen to defend their right of existence based on the premise that they have given local communities the power to determine the face and running of their daily lives. Squats in Athens have also begun to shoulder a new role as centres of anti-fascist organisation in the face of the state-facilitated rise of the Golden Dawn. More updates on events on their way.
Solidarity with the squatters of Villa Amalia!
Support statement by the Libertarian Communist Group (Athens)
Villa Amalias statement: we are, and we shall remain here.
Today, on December 20th, 2012, the police raided Villa Amalias. Under the pretext of a complaint for drug dealing, they searched the building in the presence of a district attorney. Their findings are ludicrous. Nevertheless, according to Dendias [translators' note: the minister of public order] these prove that Villa was an “epicentre for lawlessness” for 22 years and that the law, thanks to the “brave political will of [PM] Samaras” was finally restored.
What logical leap may brand empty beer bottles as “materials for the construction of molotovs?” Is it strange to have a large number of empty beer bottles in a place that hosts a concert [gig] space and a café? What comprises a “flammable material”? May they be referring to the cleaning liquids for the printing press that operates in the squat?
Should we talk about the gas masks that should be carried by every demonstrator that respects their health? Should we talk about the elementary means of self-defense (the mock flash bangs, slingshots etc) in a space that has repeatedly been attacked by para-statist gangs (arsons, stabbings, beatings) with the apogee reached in 2008, when the then minister of public order Markogiannakis visited the “residents” of Agios Panteleimonas and a few minutes after he left, we were attacked…
Under the pretext of the search, then, they materialise a long-standing wet dream of theirs: their raid into a space that is one of the spatial symbols of all those who stand in hostility against anything that represents sovereignty, imposition, sterilization, indifference, surrender, subjection. In this they are right. That’s who we are. Us and the thousands of demonstrators, the people in struggle, squatters, strikers, people fighting in the streets. We are the homeless, the punks and the rebels, the vegetarians and the feminists, the nocturnal ones and the workers, poor and the aggrieved, the victims of racism and the avengers of injustice. The minister called us an epicentre of lawlessness…
And now we should talk seriously. Villa Amalias is an organising proposition which had to be dealt with at the time of the cannibalism of the memoranda. The onslaught of capital against the world of labour presupposes the destruction of all of its structures: the depreciation of everything that trade unions had gained, whatever structures of solidarity and dissent, the self-organised incentives: everything is targeted. The far-right agenda that has prevailed since the outbreak of the crisis commenced with the statement concerning a [supposed] hygiene bomb by Loverdos [trans. note - Loverdos was minister of health at the time and claimed that the 300 migrant hunger strikers comprised a “hygiene bomb” in the centre of Athens] against the hunger strikers of Ypatia. It continued with the targeting of migrants (at the Evros border wall, concentration camps and the Xenios Zeus [anti-migrant] operation), the pillorying of addicted seropositive women, aided by the far-right violence against migrants, homosexuals and street traders. The torturing of anti-fascists at the police HQ after the anti-fascist motorcycle demo, the attacks against squats and the harsh repression against any labour or social demand, leave little doubt for the fact that the enemy has put together a solid block; a block against which we must now resist.
For the past 22 years we have been in a building that was abandoned for decades. We maintain it and breathe life into it. We are a squat that always has its doors open to groups, individuals and incentives that promote the anti-commercial culture, human dignity, social, anti-fascist and class struggles. Villa Amalias is giving a fierce fight –– not in order to protect a dozen pillars, but in order to protect our desires, our dreams and our hopes for a more free life for everyone.
We call everyone who identifies part of themselves in the years-long operation of the squat to partake in this crucial struggle with us.
This is the windmill that the executors-don quixote’s have attacked, even though it is ideas that they are after. These are what are lawless and illegal for them. Their witch-hunt will bring them nightmares in response.
IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF THE VILLA AMALIAS SQUATTERS
From those who have been arrested:
STATEMENT BY THE VILLA AMALIAS SQUATTERS IN THE POLICE HEADQUARTERS IN ATHENS
The Villa Amalias squat has been an open political, cultural and social space, as well as a housing collective, for the past 23 years. In all these years there have been plenty of active groups in the squat including groups on theatre, concerts, musical studio, stained glass, kids’ space, dancing, foreign languages, computing, printing press, screenings, lending library, vinyl exchange – while the squat has also hosted plenty of political and cultural events by other groups. Apart from these activities inside its building, Villa Amalias has also contributed to the resolution of neighbourhood issues by participating in the residents’ assembly of Victoria square and by organising open, outward looking activities in the area – including open mic interventions, free markets, collective kitchens and kids’ events at the square.
In all these 23 years, the Villa Amalias squat has formed multiform qualities that reflected the equally multiform composition of the subjects and groups comprising it – and which in turn derive from the wider squat movement, from the Anarchist and Anti-authoritarian space and from the movement for class and labour antagonism. These qualities have materialised through the co-organising and participation in demonstrations, interventions and mobilisations concerning labour, antifascist and antiracist struggles; solidarity to persecuted squats, to migrants and persecuted comrades, to university and high school student struggles as well as the to struggles for the reclaiming of open, public spaces.
The squat’s building was abandoned since 1973 and it had been in a horrendous state. Since 1990, which is when it was occupied, it has stayed alive and maintained thanks to the financial contribution and personal work of the squatters themselves as well as all the comrades in solidarity.
The apparent owners of the building ( the municipality of athens, which has has some enormous property wealth and the school buildings’ organisation) are both renown for cases of expropriation of private property and illegal declassification [of listed buildings]. The most extravagant case of such was the enormous Haragioni building at the junction of 3d September and Ioulianou street, which turned overnight from a plot designated for the construction of a school building into a shopping mall.
In contrast to them, who see buildings and spaces as yet another arena for profit, the Villa Amalias squat and its activity is a concrete example of its premise for the creation of free social spaces that oppose financial exploitation of any kind; that are set upon anti-hierarchical, self-organised, solidarity and horizontal structures; that respect humans and support those at the bottom end of the calss pyramid, to which we also belong.
This is why the maintenance of the building, as mentioned above, is undertaken by the squatters and those in solidarity with them – in the last 4 years in particular, after the two murderous arson attacks that the squat received from para-statists, whether waged or not. These particular attacks caused gross material damage which nevertheless did not form an obstacle in Villa continuing its action. To the contrary, they boosted the morale of the people that comprise it. With the aid of all comrades, the facade of the building on the side of Cheiden Str was renovated while the restoration and further improvement of the building have commenced with the aid of architects and civil engineers.
The continued attacks are not the only ones that the project has been subject to in all these years. Due to its location but also due to its ideological values and political characteristics, Villa has oftentimes found itself targeted by the state and parastate alike. In all these attacks we always responded with our words, publicizing the events and propagandizing our positions and our beliefs through open social interventions.
On 20/12/12, at 7.00 am, men of the state security raided our Squat under the pretext of an investigation concerning “drugs” and “explosives”, following a supposed anonymous complaint. They arrested 8 people who were inside the Squat at the time, of which three were guests. They confiscated objects from the squat which the state security then used as evidence for the fabrication of charges including felonies and misdemeanors - charges that we reject. Especially when our felony acts are based on some empty beer bottles and on a tiny amount of petrol that was discovered next to the heater.
For us, this move is an explicit political choice by the state. At a time of financial and systemic crisis, the state launches an attack in all directions, degrading the life of those from below and trying to wipe out any cell of resistance and of creation of negation: this may translate in the botching of labour rights, in the promotion of racist ideals that contribute to a fascist turn of society, in the creation of conditions of insecurity aimed at us accepting the constant surveillance of our lives, or in the persecution and slandering of political spaces and subjects that rise against all the above.
WE DENY ALL CHARGES
OUR WORDS ARE OUR WEAPONS
WE SAID IT BEFORE AND WE’LL SAY IT AGAIN:
“WE’VE BEEN GAME ALL THESE YEARS AND THE END IS STILL NO-WHERE IN SIGHT”
SOLIDARITY TO ALL SQUATS (AND TO OURS)
The arrested of Villa Amalias.
A video of the resisted eviction of Gremlin Alley Social Centre has been posted following over a month of excellent activity in Cardiff. Take a look!
- Reports from Greece - Austeiry Measures and General Strikes - November 2012
- A Class Struggle Anarchist Analysis of Privilege Theory – from the Women's Caucus.
- Call for solidarity with imprisoned comrades from Belarus - IAF-IFA
- Anarchists Detained by Counter-Terrorist Police on Return from Swiss Conference [plus French, Spanish, German, Italian translations]
- Public statement from IFA Congress Saint-Imier 2012, 9-12th August to other exploited and oppressed people of the World.[plus links to translations, videos and local press]
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