Around 400,000 health workers will start voting this week on strikes against the Tories’ destruction of the NHS and the robbery of its staff.
Nurses, therapists, porters, paramedics, medical secretaries, cooks, cleaners, healthcare assistants and midwives could all walk out in October.
The battle could shape the future of the health service. Activists are already organising to win the biggest possible yes vote.
Gwyneth Powell-Davies is a Unite union rep in Bristol.
She told Socialist Worker, “I went round the building to publicise a union meeting, and found many workers I didn’t know who were delighted to talk about fighting back.
“Some non-union members talked about joining.”
Health workers’ wages have dropped in real terms every year since 2009. They have fallen by between 12 and 15 percent since 2010. The Tories’ latest offer is a further insult.
In England some 60 percent of staff get no rise while others get 1 percent. This leaves the lowest paid on barely more than the minimum wage.
A ballot of 88,000 workers in the Unite union in England, Wales and Northern Ireland began on Tuesday of this week.
Some 300,000 Unison members in England were set to ballot from Thursday.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) is preparing the first ballot in decades of its 26,000 members in England.
And 30,000 GMB union members are also set to ballot. Unison is set to ballot its members in Wales from 30 September.
In Scotland the unions have accepted an offer that gives many workers a pay cut in real terms. But activists are finding a clear mood to fight where unions are balloting.
Caroline Ridgway is a mental health worker and Unison steward in Manchester.
She told Socialist Worker, “My colleagues say they want to vote yes—including those who received 1 percent. Pay meetings are being held across the workplaces.
“When we visited Wythenshawe hospital workers took over 200 leaflets, asking for extra copies to give out.”
NHS workers could join a pay revolt in public services that saw more than a million workers strike on 10 July.
They could strike on 13 October while local government workers could walk out on 14 October. This is in the run-up to TUC and STUC demonstrations on 18 October.
This could turn the tide against the attacks on wages across the public and private sectors—if it is the start of a sustained campaign.
New figures show that Britain has some of the lowest average wages in Europe. Labour costs are now lower than in Spain.
Bank of England deputy governor Ben Broadbent has threatened that low pay could continue “as people have become more adapted to lower pay awards”.
The pay revolt can help stop NHS privatisation too.
Slashing workers’ pay and conditions lets private firms make services profitable. Defending them can help keep the vultures at bay.
And fighting can unite staff across the NHS and make other struggles stronger.
In Whipps Cross Hospital, east London, the national pay dispute is galvanising anger at attacks from local bosses, according to Unison activist Sam Strudwick.
“We’ve done stalls in the canteen and got a good response,” she told Socialist Worker.
“A lot of people here have been ‘downbanded’ and taken a pay cut, so this is a further insult.
“I met up with the RCM rep for the first time. I’ve been invited to speak at their meeting and hopefully we’ll organise joint campaigning.
“And we have Care UK workers coming in. People are fed up and want to take action.”
Workers have the power to break the Tories. They should vote yes to strike—and encourage all health workers to do the same.