The changes that New Labour is proposing to the NHS pension scheme have provoked real anger among health workers.
Undertaking jobs that are physically and emotionally demanding for relatively low pay, they are now being told they will have to work until 65 to receive a full pension. A significant number of nurses and paramedics are already unable to work until 60, retiring on grounds of ill health.
There is a feeling, even among some managers, that this is the final straw. This meant that activists in our Unison branch were able to speak at team meetings or informally to staff groups to explain the issues and publicise the Tower Hamlets rally as part of the TUC Day of Action on 18 February. As our members mainly work in small teams in hospitals or the community we were able to inform and involve them effectively and help rebuild section organisation.
We worked with the other public sector unions in Tower Hamlets to organise the lunchtime rally. As well as trade union speakers we agreed to invite the two local MPs - who didn't come - and the main local opposition parties, including Respect. The local government branch of Unison produced high quality publicity. Some 250 attended the rally, about a third of them health service workers, some attending a trade union event for the first time. Local Labour MP Oona King sent a strongly worded statement opposing the pension changes and has signed the early day motion. George Galloway and Tony Benn received a warm response for their commitment to support our fight.
The developing unity among trade union leaders in the pension campaign is very welcome, but it still does not match the feeling for united action among public sector workers. Members of our branch can't understand why they are not being asked if they are prepared to take strike action. Our branch, like many others, is organising an informal ballot to show New Labour that they will not win this war.
Tower Hamlets Health Care Unison (pc)