Health workers began voting last week in ballots that could see nearly half a million strike.
They are furious at pay cuts from the Tory government. In England, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has denied 600,000 workers even a paltry 1 percent rise.
Years of below-inflation rises mean that NHS workers’ wages have dropped by as much as 15 percent since 2010.
At the same time Tory cuts have put the service under more pressure and made their jobs even harder.
Nursing assistant Andy told Socialist Worker, “I work on a cancer ward that has lost about 15 nurses over the past year. Morale is low, and pay is just one aspect.
“People have been downbanded and have been given compulsory
12 and a half hour shifts. That’s really hard on a ward that’s constantly understaffed.”
Health workers could come out in the same week in October as more than a million other public sector workers, and in the run-up to massive trade union demonstrations.
But first the ballots have to be won. Activists are running canteen stalls, leafleting colleagues and holding meetings to spread the word.
Andy said, “We’ve found that a lot of people aren’t even aware that the ballot is on.
“It would be easier to convince people if we could tell them we’ll be out for a full day, alongside all the other workers. Instead, Unison union leaders want a separate four?hour action.
“Nevertheless, it’s a big step forward, and we’re using it as a way of getting people to join the union.
“The anger is there, but it will take some organising to turn that into action.”
The ballot has been given a boost by a long running series of strikes at Care UK in Doncaster.
The former NHS workers are now in week two of a three-week strike against attacks on their pay (see pages 17 and 19).
The Unison members are speaking at union meetings about their dispute. During the past six months, they have kept up their action for over 60 strike days—thanks to solidarity from other workers.
In Barnsley, trades council activists and Care UK strikers raised £100 from hospital staff on Wednesday of last week.
Trades council chair Dave Gibson told Socialist Worker, “Seeing Care UK strikers outside their workplace gives a great example to hospital workers that it is possible to stand up and fight Tory attacks on the health service.”
Around 400 Unite union members also struck in the Yorkshire Ambulance Service on Friday of last week and Tuesday of this week.
And a march from Jarrow for the NHS was set to arrive in London this Saturday, with a welcome at Red Lion Square at 2pm and a demonstration at 3pm in Trafalgar Square.
Andy said, “For a lot of people it will be their first strike, “And if we can get nurses and others out picketing in front of hospitals it can have a big impact.”
When union leaders meet at the TUC this weekend they should organise coordinated action that can win. The strikes this October need to be part of a sustained fightback.
Forecast for October? Stormy
The Unison union ballot of 350,000 health workers in England closes on 18 September. Some 88,000 Unite union members’ can vote in England, Wales and Northern Ireland until 26 September.
The GMB union’s three-week ballot of 22,500 workers in England and Northern Ireland begins on Wednesday of this week.
And the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) is set to ballot its 22,500 members in England for the first time ever.
They could all strike on 13 October, the day before more than a million local government workers walk out.
This has the potential to be an electric week of struggle culminating with the mass TUC and STUC demonstrations on Saturday 18 October.
Unison is also set to ballot its members in Wales to join later strikes, and so could GMB and RCM.
Socialist Worker supporters and others are also arguing for teachers, civil service workers, lecturers and firefighters to join the strikes.