Northampton General Hospital dispute and the role of the Unite bureaucracy By Alan Hunter

05/08/2014 by socialistfight












The Northampton General Hospital picket line

Seventy eight Bio medical scientists and support workers working in the Northampton General Hospital (NGH) Pathology department have been banned from working there since Thursday 26th June 2014 and have been locked out by management.

Len McCluskey Unite General Secretary visited his locked out members on Friday 18th July in Northampton and said   “I am calling on Dr Sonia Swart (Northampton Trust CEO) to abandon her war on NHS workers and get around the table to negotiate a solution”.

The workforce has rejected threats and intimidation from the trust and has remained resolute and defiant against the wishes of the Trust to smash Unite. Their magnificent fight to defend Unite against a witchhunt showed the way to fight, however the same could not be said for the Unite bureaucracy. Their whole role in this dispute has been to find a way back to the negotiating table. Steve Turner, Assistant General Secretary, and Mick Orpin, Regional Industrial Organiser, have been in discussions with ACAS to end the dispute.

McCluskey had threatened to issue an Injunction in the High Court of Justice against the trust because of their use of agency staff in an industrial dispute, but on Thursday 26 July the injunction was withdrawn and the dispute ended. This was a rotten deal organised by the Unite bureaucracy at the highest levels. The Pathology shop steward Terry Lodge was only allowed to be involved once in the negotiations which usually composed of bureaucrats lead to rotten deals and compromises.

Many of the workers I spoke to outside the Northampton General Hospital were very unhappy with this saw called deal and compromise. “This was a compromise deal and you cannot call this a victory” several of them commented to me. They are very unhappy and angry about the outcome in which they had high hopes that the officials would fight for their demands. The Unite bureaucracy wanted this to be a sectional dispute from the beginning and restrict it to the biomedical workers. No attempts were made to spread the dispute by seeking the support of local Unite members working in the hospital in other departments and seeking support from Unison, the GMB and other health unions.

This is an important lesson for workers. After the Grangemouth debacle where a whole membership in the oil refinery was betrayed, the Unite leadership has continued in Northampton where it left off in Falkirk.

Without a determined and conscious Trotskyist leadership many disputes left in the hands of the local bureaucracy will lead to defeat and betrayal. There must be a conscious decision to fight for a disciplined Rank and File Leadership that will not betray at the first hurdle but continue until all of the demands are met and the strike has spread to a general strike to bring down this coalition government. This rank and file leadership must be elected and accountable to the membership.

The biomedical workers were new to industrial action and trusted the local officials to fight for their demands. This mistake they will not make again. The local officials never wanted the dispute to be spread in defence of the NHS. All they achieved was a compromise deal with no visual improvements in their pay and conditions. Much of the issues that the biomedical workers were locked out remain unresolved.

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