Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Ambulance dispute 1989/90 - 'Now the police won't just put you in hospital, they'll drive you there too'

The 1989-90 ambulance workers' fight for a decent pay rise started out with an overtime ban in September 1989 and was escalated to refusing to answer non-emergency calls. Workers who refused non-emergency duties were suspended without pay, though many continued to come into work and run an emergency service themselves from the ambulance stations, dealing directly with calls from the public and in effect cutting out management altogether. 

There was considerable support for the dispute. On a day of action on December 6th 1989 council workers (in Hackney and Hammersmith), construction workers (including 300 steel erectors on the Canary Wharf site) and hospital workers (at the Elizabeth Garret Anderson in Soho) were among those in London who took unofficial strike action for the day in support of the ambulance crews. Another day of action on 30 January 1990 saw London bus drivers staging a short strike. The dispute finished in February 1990 having achieved a 16.9% pay rise. Not quite the 25.8% initially demanded but a big improvement on the original offer of 7.5%.

Report from Evening Standard on 30 January day of action in support of ambulance crews

Flyer for TUC 'Public Assembly in Support of Ambulance Workers' in Trafalgar Square, 13 January 1990

During the dispute the Government brought in the police and the army to drive ambulances. I was involved in producing a couple of posters in response to this. One read 'Now the police won't just put you in hospital, they'll drive you there too', the other was an image of a soldier in Belfast with a woman asking 'are you sure he's an ambulance driver' and her dog answering 'well he's about to put somebody in hospital'. 

The posters were widely distributed and copied across the country, we heard of them being flyposted in various places and they were reproduced in a number of publications (the 'Support the Ambulance Crews - Troops Out' one was unsurprizingly featured in Troops Out magazine). I remember getting rid of a big pile of them at a Chumbawamba gig at Stratford Polytechnic in November.

(A3 original)

North Middlesex Hospital

The posters were printed by a friend working at Union Place Resource Centre, a community print co-op in Camberwell. It was also at Union Place that we made a banner 'North Middlesex Supports the Ambulance Crews'. I was working at the North Middlesex Hospital at the time and was a NUPE union rep. I helped set up a North Middlesex Ambulance Support Group, we collected funds and linked with the nearby Edmonton Ambulance Station. I also went to a couple of meetings of the London Health Workers Co-ordinating Committee at University College Hospital (UCH), an unofficial network of militants from London hospitals. 

'This crew are not being paid'

Support for ambulance crews at North Middlesex Hospital (think this may have been on the 6th December national day of action)

The biggest event we organised was for the national protest on January 30th 1990. Around 100 hospital workers joined the protest outside the North Middlesex Hospital on the north circular road.

Sheffield rally, 18 November 1989

I went to an Ambulance workers rally in Sheffield, here's a few pictures:

'our pay has stopped, but we have not'

I think this is union leader Roger Poole speaking in Sheffield

See also:

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