Members of the United Voices of the World union were on strike again on Thursday 21 October at the SAGE care home at Golders Green, in the London Borough of Barnet. Their dispute has been running for nearly a year, and it is the second time they have taken two days of strike action over the poverty wages at the care home which is short-staffed and mismanaged. Their bosses’ have refused to negotiate their claim for £12 an hour, parity with the NHS for annual leave, paid breaks during the night shift and unsocial hours pay for working weekend and nights.
The UVW organised a lively picket with placards and banners reading “Dignity in care,” “Poverty pay,” and, “Short staffed—short staff risks lives.” There was a festive atmosphere on the picket line with music and dancing. Supporters from Barnet and further afield were there in solidarity, while passers-by were supportive and cars honked.
Bile, a senior care worker at Sage and UVW executive committee member, told the picket line: “We work 8am to 8:30pm every day. We work in hard conditions and we respect the residents. One of our colleagues had to get surgery but was forced to return because they couldn’t pay the bills. We need proper sick and holiday pay. We are skilled workers and we won’t be treated like robots anymore. We won’t stop if they don’t give us what we want—we’ll keep going. They say there’s a pandemic, they say there’s COVID-19, but there’s a different COVID the bosses are the second virus.”
Aron Keller from Jewish Solidarity Action said: “I’m incredibly proud to be here in solidarity with the workers at Sage who have given their absolute all, under impossible conditions, to take care of elders in my community. It’s extremely important that these workers are treated with dignity.” The UVW strikers also received other messages of solidarity including one from Sharon Graham, General Secretary of Unite.
The UVW union strikers and supporters then joined a bus to protest outside Freshwater House in Central London, a building where the companies headed by Benzion Freshwater, a billionaire property developer who sits on Sage’s board of trustees, are located. The strikers handed in a letter and briefly occupied the lobby.
This strike highlights the poverty pay and terrible working conditions in care homes. The Care and Support Workers Organise campaign has been building a network across unions to back workers in the sector. The Tory government’s massive funding cuts to councils and the health and care sector, has forced care homes to close. This has exacerbated the crisis in the NHS as hospitals find it difficult to place patients into care homes, leading to “bed-blocking”. In Barnet, the Tory council is playing its full part in deepening the crisis by closing the Apthorp care home, sacking 93 care workers.
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