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Ian Burge & Myrna Shaw

Bethnal Green Hospital

Management forced to negotiate

(December 1978)

From Militant, No. 434, 1 December 1978, p. 6.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

History was made at this month’s meeting of the City and East London Area Health Authority. The Authority was forced to recognise the Tower Hamlets shop stewards’ committee and start negotiating.

In the five years since the AHA was constituted participation in the proceedings has been confined to members of the Authority and its officers. The Chairman, Mr Cumberlege (of Messrs Thomas Cumberlege and Inskipp, tea brokers) has always maintained that ‘members of the public’ – and this, for him, includes health service workers and their representatives – cannot participate.

At earlier discussion with the District Administrator it was made clear to us that the management were not able to negotiate on Bethnal Green Hospital because their hands were tied by the AHA. The reply from one of his officers bleated about ‘numerous requests from a large variety of representative groups’. He hoped we would understand his ‘reluctance to add to the list which on the basis of time alone could not be accommodated.’

Management have thus deliberately avoided hearing the views of the staff and their trade unions. They have blindly attempted to press on with their plans, regardless of the hospital workers and the local trade union movement. Through the ‘blacking’ by the unions of conversion work at Bethnal Green Hospital, a whole chain of inter-dependent plans also affecting the adjacent Hackney Borough and the start of a new hospital there, have been held up.


The management at Area level, those remote mandarins who act as the executive for the AHA, had adopted a complete dog-in-the-manger attitude. Here were the unions holding up numerous plans – management were quite happy to just sit tight and let the services run down.

Members of the Authority suddenly realised what was happening: the plans could not be implemented without union co-operation, the unions’ co-operation was dependent on meaningful negotiations and they were willing to come to a compromise – yet management were intransigent. Finance earmarked for their new hospital was under increasing threat of being re-allocated elsewhere, due entirely to the incompetence and rigidity of Area management.

In the meeting, AHA members demanded that the shop stewards present in the public gallery be asked to negotiate. Swallowing his pride, the chairman had to appeal to the stewards’ spokesman (Ian Burge). But the terms were too narrow – the spokesman explained he would need to consult with the committee. A recess was granted, and the stewards retired to an ante-chamber to consider the offer.

We drew up a statement declaring our terms, and returned to read it out. Confusion reigned. The chairman didn’t know what to do – he threw up his hands declaring the whole matter open for debate.

To try and help resolve the matter, the stewards’ spokesman referred to a proposal made by one member that the Tower Hamlets management be given authority to negotiate with the JSSC, in effect without their hands tied. Thus item 9 on the agenda, ‘to consider a report on the present situation’ concerning Bethnal Green Hospital, closed.

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Last updated: 10 July 2017