Organising at St George’s hospital in London. Workers have shown that it is possible to mobilise for Palestine (Picture: Shahid Uddin)

Workers for Gaza at St George’s hospital, one of London’s largest, has won large numbers of people to be active for Palestine. Max, a member of the group, explained to Yuri Prasad how it organises.

How did the group get going?

It started with conversations. In October last year, as the war on Gaza started, people were all saying, “We should do something”.

A few of us got together and started with the idea of a fundraiser to buy medical supplies. But we soon realised there were practical problems with that.

So, we decided to shift our focus to raising awareness, sharing events happening in other parts of London and making a banner for the big demonstrations. Lots of people helped with that.

We created a WhatsApp group and began adding supportive colleagues. We laminated some QR codes for it, and when someone we spoke to was interested, we got them to scan it. Before long we had quite a lot of supporters.

We did try to approach the different unions, including Unison, RCN and Unite within the hospital. But that has not produced results yet. We did find a very supportive environment in the local Wandsworth Friends of Palestine group. This enabled healthcare workers to create stronger connections in the local community.

What was the first action?

We held an action on 29 November. It was people coming off the hospital site for half an hour in their lunchbreak. We were very careful to tell people to ensure that their patients were safe before they left.

We thought that organising in these circumstances, combined with the problem of health workers all being on different rotas, might mean it would be a small. But we were surprised. Around 30 people came, mostly from the hospital.

St George’s is unique because it has a medical university on the same site as the hospital. We wanted the protest to mix students, workers and community, and it did. We were very happy.

What did you organise next?

We organised a vigil on 14 December with Dr Omar Abdel-Mannan, one of the founders of Gaza Medic Voices. That was even more successful and around 100 people came. Everyone was astonished by the size.

So, we planned another one for 28 December. Unfortunately, the students were mostly away for the holiday and staffing was lower than normal. But around 50 people came.

On 15 January we organised a screening of the film Farha, which is about the Nakba, in the university itself. It was the first major event for Palestine there.

What are you planning next?

We are preparing a second event in the university with a Palestinian refugee, healthcare activists and doctors who worked in Gaza.

We also want to make more links between health workers here and those in Gaza. We also want to inspire others, such as journalists and students, to do the same.

Push unions, but organise yourself

Workers everywhere should be pushing for action on 7 February. It would be a big step forward to extend and deepen the support for Palestine.

The UCU union last week said, “We are calling on every branch to arrange a protest at their workplace on Wednesday 7 February, and to ask student and other campus unions to participate.”

Every UCU member has to seize that and seek to organise the biggest and most militant form of action on the day.

The NEU union executive has passed a motion to “build for the next national day of action on 7 February, sending guidance to all members on actions that they can take in their workplace”. School workers should use this to organise actions.

The PCS union was expected to issue support this week for 7 February. But the push from most unions has been non-existent. Workers have to pressure their union leaders to call clear action. But they need to organise for action whether union leaders call it or not.

Last week the Stop The War Coalition hosted a meeting with trade unionists on workplace action. Ayo Khalil formed Health Workers for a Free Palestine after what he said was the “failure of leadership” by the British Medical Association. 

Ayo saw “a need for direct action and for organising initiatives for those who want to see something more and are not satisfied” with the union leadership.

Omar Abdel-Mannan, founder of Gaza Medic Voices, said that at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, “There have been lunch time protests of up to 60 people for the fallen Palestinian healthcare workers.” 

Omar is “fully supportive of the planned walkouts on 7 February” and “wants to coordinate across as many hospitals as possible”. 

Sean Vernell, a member of the UCU said, “If on 7 February  we could get workday stoppages, even for 30 minutes outside, it will make a huge difference across the movement.” 

Everyone can do something on 7 February.

What are you doing for 7 February? Contact
The Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Youth Movement and London Student Action for Palestine have organised a Zoom meeting on Monday, 29 January, 6pm, to coordinate action on 7 February. Meeting ID 831 8887 7131 Passcode FEB7

‘Don’t be intimidated’

Roddy Slorach is a university worker and UCU union branch secretary at Imperial College in London.

“We’ve been working to build a network of students and staff who want to be involved in organising for Palestine. We’ve set up a WhatsApp group that now has 300 members.

“We’ve now had three protests on campus. At the last one we talked about our plans for 7 February. To make that day big we have to build up people’s confidence.

“Even if workers or students face intimidation they have to know they won’t be alone, they will have people behind them who will fight back.

“It’s not been easy discussing Palestine in my union branch. We haven’t been able to pass motions to support the local and national demonstrations for Palestine. But we have been able to pass a motion to say that anti-Zionism is not equal to antisemitism.

“Passing the motion has been important because a student and I had received intimidating emails from management. It’s helped us to counteract their accusations, and now management has gone quiet.”

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