Strike a pose – pictures of Peterborough’s unions in the ’80s

For all the changes we’ve been through since the ’80s our NHS workers remain as committed as ever – and the Tories remain committed to holding back their pay.

Paramedic Chris Porsz worked through the changes and, thanks to a passion for photography, was on hand to capture some of the changes.

He’s just retired after 46 years in the health service and published a new book, Just be Kind – Four Decades of the NHS through my lens.

He tells UNISON Eastern: “It’s a tribute to the NHS and my colleagues, over the past few months in particular.

“Many have done so much, over the last few months in particular.”

His photos offer a fascinating insight into the NHS, its workers and the unions representing them over those years.

Chris joined the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE), which merged with NALGO and COHSE to become UNISON in 1993, when he got a six-week job as a hospital porter at Peterborough Hospital after dropping out of university.

“I started studying sociology to become a social worker and it changed me life,” he says, “but I dropped out of university because it was just long boring lectures.

“I turned my camera on society instead.”

He ended up at Peterborough Hospital for 13 years, capturing some of the great struggles of NHS workers in those times and becoming a NUPE steward.

One particularly strong memory was when the new private Fitzwilliam Hospital opened in 1983 and NHS crews refused to transfer patients.

Someone ended up having to make the two-mile journey in the back of lorry that had been full of tarmac a couple of hours before. They used private ambulances after that.

After portering, Chris decided to train as a paramedic in time to take part in the national ambulance dispute of 1989-1990, one of the few trade union success of the Thatcher years.

“The support we got from the public in Peterborough was amazing. People were lining up in their hundreds to donate to our strike fund.”

After the strike – during which 999 cover was maintained – ambulance staff won not only improved pay but improved respect for their profession.

Collecting in Peterborough and marching in London.

Chris put down his camera in the early ’90s as he focused on his family life. He picked it up again in 2009 when the Peterborough Evening Telegraph gave him a column, the Paramedic Paparzzo. He started publishing books of his street photography.

But there’s a link between the world view that drove him to be active in NUPE and snap the world around him.

“I’ve always been sympathetic to the dispossessed and wanted to change the world,” he says.

“Part of why I wanted to do the NHS book was to highlight the contribution immigrants have made.

“I’ve been really saddened by the rising nationalism and xenophobia in recent years. My mother was a holocaust survivor, her family were murdered in concentration camps.

“My parents came to Peterborough and made an incredible contribution to the city. Without people like them the whole NHS would collapse.

“My book title Just Be Kind was inspired by my 90-year-old mother, who was asked: ‘Krystyna, do you have a message for the world?’ Despite her dementia she instantly replied: ‘Just be kind.’ For me this is the very ethos and beating heart of our NHS.”

Buy the book

Ancillary staff at Peterborough Hospital vote to join in a day of action with ambulance workers.