Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn threw his support behind striking health visitors and shipyard workers occupying the iconic Harland and Wolff shipyard, as he met with both groups to discuss their industrial battles.
Unite rep and health visitor Claire Bradford highlighted the Lincolnshire health visitors’ plight as they entered another week of strike action from Monday (September 9), on top of the 17 days already taken.
Both Bradford and Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail explained to the Labour leader how they have been denied legitimate pay rises by Lincolnshire county council since October 2017.
The dispute centres on Unite’s calculation that its health visitor members have lost more than £2,000 a year since they were transferred from the NHS to Lincolnshire county council in October 2017. There is also serious concern about the erosion of the health visitors’ professional standards.
“Health visiting is imperative in ensuring that each and every child has equal outcomes,” Bradford told Corbyn.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, also in attendance, said the union would be stepping up its campaign.
“The scale of this [strike] is unprecedented,” he said. “These are highly qualified nurses who are basically looking out for our future.”
Corbyn pledged continued support and said the Labour party would consult with health visitors like them to develop their policy on whether public health services should be taken back to the NHS instead of, as is the case now, being run by local councils.
He saluted the health visitors, highlighting the many lives they have saved as he denounced health visitor cuts.
“It’s always they poorest and most vulnerable who lose out,” he said.
Future in the balance
The Labour leader likewise met with workers from the Harland and Wolff shipyard, whose futures hang in the balance after the company went into administration.
In a remarkable story of grit and determination, the Harland and Wolff workers have occupied the site continuously since the company stood on the precipice of going bust – they are now are determined to find a buyer with the shipyard’s long-term interests at heart.
Unite Harland and Wolff shop steward Joe Passmore called the shipyard in Belfast the “heart of the city”, and added that the “greater trade union movement empowers us – it’s what gives us our strength.”
He explained how a credible buyer has been found, but that they will need government support to secure interim funding until a sale takes place.
Passmore said that the workers “will insist on having a say right from the start” once a buyer is found – a buyer that looks to the future and isn’t only about short-term profits.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey praised the workers for their “incredibly brave” stance in occupying the shipyard.
“They have saved the yard,” he added. “If they hadn’t have done what they did, they would have built flats by the quayside and a little museum showing how shipbuilding used to exist in Belfast.”
Corbyn salutes workers
Corbyn likewise saluted the shipyard workers, and pledged to do all he could so that they received immediate temporary funding to facilitate a successful sale.
“But this must be part of a bigger industrial strategy of regenerating manufacturing industry and bringing in green jobs,” he added.
“On naval shipbuilding contracts we have made it very clear – Royal fleet auxiliary ships must be made in the UK. It is a strategic asset and should not be built in South Korea or anywhere else,” Corbyn went on to say.
Speaking to UniteLive after the meeting, which was held in Brighton during the TUC conference, both health visitors and shipyard workers hailed the Labour leader’s support.
“It’s been really positive that we have that workforce backing at a higher level,” said striking Lincolnshire health visitor and Unite rep Hayley Carter.
Her colleague Nicola Stinson, also a health visitor and Unite rep, agreed.
“I can’t believe that we’re here and have been given the opportunity to actually speak with [Corbyn] and highlight the issues we face,” she said.
Unite Harland and Wolff shop steward Joe Passmore likewise praised Corbyn’s backing.
“It’s good to know that [our fight] is in the political thought process, “ he said. “Now more than ever we need the political pressure to back us up. We have a vision for our future – with any new buyer we want to have a say from the very beginning. But we need political leaders to buy into this vision and support us with whatever resources are needed from the government.”
*Stay tuned on UNITElive for more TUC conference coverage from Brighton.