Striking workers often get a bad press because of the perceived inconvenience to the broader public. Remember the strike by Junior doctors from Treliske? When I mixed with the crowd of onlookers assembled at the Piazza in Truro, I overheard comments such as “Disgrace!” “irresponsible” “what about the patients?”.
While these were a minority of voices it signalled a persistent misunderstanding of the desperation that drives working people to risk their jobs and their future by walking out of their workplace. We are told instead by the Mail, the Express, The Sun, the Telegraph that strikers are irresponsible laggards or the loony left. We are not told the truth; we are not told that a million public sector workers are paid less than living wage, including those whose jobs are outsourced to the likes of Mitie.
The MITIE workers strike is a direct result of decisions made by the newly elected Conservative government in 2010 – decisions that were never shared with the voting public in the run-up to the general election of 2010. Rather the opposite: voters were explicitly promised – not once but several times – that a Conservative government would not bring about a top-down reorganisation of the NHS. It was even written into the joint coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats, and then promptly broken once in office. You can read the detailed document below.
Once in government what followed was one of the biggest reorganisation of the NHS ever, via the NHS Health and Social Care Act 2012; one so big that the then Chief Executive of the NHS, David Nicholson famously described them as ‘visible from space’. Its chief aim was to transform the NHS along market lines and to maximise the outsourcing of health services to private companies in the name of ‘efficiency’, ‘value for money’, ‘innovation’. Values of care, compassion, vocation and a sense of public service were ignored or derided as an anachronism in the relentless marketisation of public life.
And that brings us back to Mitie. The £90 Million contract for hotel services including cleaning, was awarded to Mitie in 2014 and 600 RCHT employees were transferred over. Almost from the beginning, services, wages and working decisions deteriorated as Mitie followed the well-trodden path of all private providers by improving profits through cutting costs- particularly labour costs
So when you hear of striking public sector workers, check your first thought that this is an ill-considered action that inconveniences the public or risks patient safety. Point the finger of blame instead where it rightfully belongs: at our Conservative MPs who have consistently championed the damaging and unnecessary re-organisation of our NHS along market lines.
It is possible that an election will happen this year. When it does, the likes of Sarah Newton MP will parade a glowing record of government achievements in ‘protecting our NHS’ and other public services. She will talk of promises of a better tomorrow with ever more money for the NHS and other public services. Yet any promises must be judged by their track record of how our MPs voted, and what the consequences have been. The record is a pretty awful one!
At some point we will release voting records for all six Cornish MPs. Please read, use and share these. Please also insist that at any election husting you attend must include a fifteen minute time slot for the sitting MP to explain why they voted as they did.
We believe that this proposal should be part of a larger reform that strengthens local democratic accountability through a local Constituency Pact. Some of you have seen this already and whether or not this actually happens is down to you the reader.
Without this more active engagement by local voters, we shall remain passive bystanders in a broken democracy that sees our MPs as outposts of Westminster in Cornwall, not the voice for Cornwall at Westminster.
To sit back and do nothing, is to let elites decide our future.