Socialist Worker

Turn fury at the Tories into big strike votes, say NHS workers

Attacks on pay and conditions have created enormous anger among health workers—but union leaders need to do more to build action that can stop them, writes Annette Mackin

Issue No. 2420

Thousands marched in London against attacks on the NHS and to greet the 999 March last Saturday (see below)

Thousands marched in London against attacks on the NHS and to greet the 999 March (see below) (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Health workers are voting on whether to strike against Tory attacks on their pay—and half a million could walk out if they vote yes.

They are furious that Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt has denied 600,000 workers even a miserly 1 percent rise.

Health workers in the Unison, Unite and GMB unions are balloting, along with the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).

They could strike in the same week as around a million other public sector workers next month.

“Our pay has fallen by 15 percent since the Tories got in,” said Janet Maiden, a nurse at University College Hospital.

“We feel taken advantage of and worn down. But we have to convince people that they are right to strike. People win by striking.”

More than 4,000 nursing posts, including ward sisters and specialist nurses, have been cut since the Tories came to office.

Unions have sent out campaign materials for the strike ballots. Activists are leafleting wards and running lunchtime stalls.

But unions need to do more to get a big yes vote. Sending their officials into the hospitals would help persuade workers that the unions are serious about a fightback.

People everywhere are fed up with the attacks on the NHS. But they aren’t necessarily confident enough to take action or think they can win. 

It’s urgent to campaign now to secure a big yes vote.

Tory cuts have pushed nurses to the brink. Some 6,000 nurses took part in a recent joint survey carried out by the Sunday Mirror and the Nursing Standard.

Nearly three quarters said working conditions have deteriorated since the Tories came to office. And some 84 percent of nurses said that their current pay does not reflect their hard work.

Struggling

“Nothing beats walking around the ward and talking to people,” said Janet, “My experience is you catch people struggling and help.”

The public backs strikes. A survey for the RCM showed that 63 percent of people would support industrial action by midwives.

The strike ballot can also tap into anger that health workers feel about other issues at work, such as performance-related pay.

This means NHS bosses can deny workers their pay increment if they are deemed to have poor performance, which includes being off work sick.

“People are fuming,” said Jordan, a health worker at Homerton hospital in east London.

The Unison ballot ends on Thursday of next week and ballots in other unions end later in the month.

“When we took a day of action in June people went on about how good it made them feel for days,” said Janet. 

“It was really popular. Fighting back makes you get a sense of your power, and it can hit the Tories hard.”


Hospital campaigners joined the demonstration

Hospital campaigners joined the demonstration (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Health march arrives in London

Some 5,000 protesters marched through central London to demand an end to Tory attacks on the NHS last Saturday.

The demonstration also marked the end of the 

300-mile long 999 March for the NHS by health campaigners from Darlington, Durham.

Marcher Rehana Azam said she “wanted to raise attention to what the government is doing to our NHS”.

Local health activists and workers joined the protest. Maria from Hammersmith told Socialist Worker, “I was in A&E last week and the nurses never stopped. 

“They are exhausted. It’s shocking what the government is doing to the NHS.”

The protest ended with speeches and a rally in Trafalgar Square.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham pledged to repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012 if Labour comes to office next May.


Profits soar for private providers

Private health firms that leech off the NHS are reporting record growth this year.

Three key firms—Spire Health, Circle and Ramsay Health—have released their half-yearly results. The amount of money they’ve sucked out of the health service rose by up to 60 percent in just six months.

It is a clear rebuttal to those politicians, including Labour’s Alistair Darling, who claim the service faces no threat.

Circle is one of the biggest private providers. It has even taken over the running of an entire NHS hospital—Hinchingbrooke, in Cambridgeshire.

The company profits by siphoning-off NHS patients to its private hospitals in Reading and Bath. Numbers treated at Reading have risen by a shocking 235 percent since January.

Longer waiting lists are driving some patients to use the NHS “Choose and Book” system to bypass local hospitals and go straight to Circle’s.

Shares in health firms soared last week as news of the plundering of the NHS filtered out. 

Spire’s shares jumped by 7.7 percent in a single day.

City analyst Cora McCallum was ecstatic. “As public sector funding fails to keep pace with demand, we believe patients will increasingly face long waiting lists and treatment rationing and thus opt to be treated privately,” she said. “Spire is well placed to benefit.”

 


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