Barts – NHS vs Serco (and PFI)

The rally and march from the Royal London Hospital to Mile End Hospital has a new relevance with the recent collapse of Carillion, which has brought new attention to the problems of PFI and of out-sourcing of facilities that are at the root of the problems at Barts Health Trust. One of the speakers at the rally – seen on the march in the picture above – was Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, whose criticisms of both of these problems have received considerable airing in the last few days, though of course he has been making them for a very long time.

The dispute was between the cleaners and porters of Barts Trust who are members of the Unite Union and had been on strike for five days, demanding an increase of 30p per hour in line with inflation and cost of living increases . The strikers voted 99% in favour of strike action, their militancy because of the actions of Serco, whose first action when they took over the contract was an attempt to take away their paid tea breaks.

Serco were forced to back down over that by concerted action, but the cleaners still accuse Serco of increasing stress and workload with a climate of bullying, intimidation and fear and a failure to set up procedures for reporting problems with facilities. And they say that Serco have acted illegally during the strike by  bringing in agency workers with inadequate training to replace them, resulting in insanitary conditions in the hospital.

I took a number of pictures of Unite’s Gail Cartmel at the event but particularly like this one of her speaking, which shows something of her dynamism. It also includes in the frame some key elements – the Unite flag (and flags are always problematic for photographers, seldom behaving as we want them at the right time so they can be read), the inbuilt caption ‘The Royal London’, and both some of the hospital’s Victorian building at right, as well as at top centre the new PFI-built hospital which has crippled the Bart’s Trust with a huge debt –  £2.4m per week in interest payments – under a disastrous New Labour deal.

It was hard to chose just one of the pictures of the strikers to put in here, and I chose this  particular image partly because it seemed to show something of their determination, but also for the poster which explains what the image and the dispute is about, “30p an Hour – Because They’re Worth It”, and the crowd of placards behind.

And although this dispute involved one of our big unions, some of the most vocal support at the rally and on the march came from other cleaners, particularly in the United Voices of the World. Victor Ramirez, a cleaner from the UVW spoke at the rally and was among the leaders of the march, with his spirited contributions in Spanish being translated by Claudia from the UVW behind him in this picture – and marching behind John McDonnell in the top image.

Barts NHS Cleaners march against Serco


There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.