Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Unison leaders have to take the gloves off

The news that Unison, the public sector union, is to launch strike action against NHS privatisation is not before time. For years, Unison voiced only verbal opposition while New Labour carved up the health service. Policies ranging from privatised treatment centres to the leasing of new hospitals from private sector firms have sailed through unopposed.

Even the decision to take action against the sell-off of NHS Logistics – which supplies and delivers healthcare products to hospitals – to the German firm DHL is belated. Invitations to tender actually went out in August 2004 and DHL was chosen in February of this year. The contract comes into force in just 18 days time, on October 1.

Given half a chance, union members would have fought government plans all along. The overwhelming decision of NHS Logistics workers to strike confirms that. But Unison general secretary Dave Prentis has been determined not to rock the New Labour boat in the futile hope that behind-the-scenes pressure would change government policies. Only now, with the end of Tony Blair’s premiership in sight, is Unison acting.

Well, better late than never. What is the perspective for the planned strikes? Unison surely knows that New Labour will not change its mind on the DHL contract, which is signed and sealed. A series of one-day actions would fritter away the resolve of the membership and the government can just sit the strikes out.

Perhaps there’s another agenda. Is the real intention of Unison’s leaders merely to use the proposed strikes to try and extract some sort of secret pledge from Gordon Brown on his attitude to the NHS should he succeed Blair? Brown is the architect of many of New Labour’s policies, including the private finance initiative which has helped undermine hospital finances. So any sort of undertaking from him would be worthless.

But if Unison’s leaders really are serious about fighting the government, then they will mobilise not just NHS Logistics workers but all their health service members. They would rally the rest of the trade union movement against a capitalist government that merits no support whatsoever and open the discussion on the creation of an alternative to New Labour.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

1 comment:

Laurence Humphries said...

It is interesting to Note that the Unison Leadership is taking this stand as a Gmb member with DHL members the GMb has already decided that it will oppose this sell off , privatisation etc to DHL GMB has DHL members who certaintly have sympathy with other Health service Member currentlly working in the Health Service, the Real Isuue is that the Leadership is just interested in trying to Manouevre New Labour not try and get rid of it the Only solution is through Democratic Change and the Removal of NEW Labour through building a Democratic Alternative.