The daily grinding power struggles and injustices are not part of employee forums, official negotiations or the spectacle of political representation. They fester under our skin, in our hearts. They make us sick, if we stay alone. They enter the stage once we recognise each other as comrades in struggle, during canteen meetings or on occupied roundabouts. So send us your stories about what pisses you off, fellow workers and oppressed subjects! And yes, we keep a list for judgement day!
I confess, I am a union rep. Today I represented a hospital kitchen worker in a sickness absence meeting. She has been working in the NHS for over 30 years, from when the fucker Blair was lying about Iraq until these days of lockdown sadness and Covid wards. In the basement of the hospital, unknown to many, she and her fellow workers churn out 3,000 meals per day, against all odds of breaking down blast-chillers or lack of staff.
She has been off sick four times in the last six month. Half a day with migraine, two separate days with acid reflux and two days with ear ache, which gives her vertigo. She has been pretty deaf in one ear for the last couple of years. She needs a scan, but the waiting list is long. She has been waiting for eight months now, to be exact. The acid reflux might have something to do with stress? Her daughter has had a seizure recently, she has been diagnosed with two dormant brain tumours three years ago. The daughter is depressed and my fellow worker sometimes just wants to leave the house and go to work, in order not having to be around her.
Her absence has triggered the absence policy. The sickness target is 3.8%. But of course the HR manager is understanding. She is able to use all modern lingo, from ‘emotional labour’ to ’mindfulness’. She talks about trauma, about wanting to help. She recommends counselling, the trust offers six free sessions. Still, she has to set targets. If my fellow worker is sick again twice within the next six months she will trigger the next stage – “but please don’t be worried about that possibility” – which might result in the ‘termination of the employment relation’. Outside the do-gooders continue clapping for the NHS ‘heroes’…
There is nothing really to negotiate here. Of course as a union rep you can try tricks, talk about ‘occupational health’ and all, but in the end there are only two sides to chose from here. While the unions in the NHS have a hard time to convince people to reject the 3% pay decision of the government, it’s experiences like this one which fuel our hatred. The unions don’t want to or perhaps can’t relate to this fundamental discontent. Do we allow them to turn this hatred inwards, softened by free counselling sessions and the right to appeal, or do we throw it back into their face: it’s the system that makes us sick, let’s turn our sickness into a collective weapon…