Socialist Worker

Strike back to save the NHS

As the Tories launch another attack on NHS pay, building solidarity with the health strikes is crucial for our side to beat them, says Tomáš Tengely-Evans

Issue No. 2437

Strikers at University College Hospital in London last yera

Strikers at University College Hospital in London last year (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Up to half a million health workers across England are set to strike for 12 hours from 9am on Thursday 29 January. 

It is to be followed up with a 24-hour walkout on Wednesday 25 February. 

It’s a fight for everyone who wants to resist austerity and defend the NHS—everyone should organise to support it.

The Unison, Unite, GMB and the Royal College of Midwives unions, among others, are set to join the walkout. 

GMB ambulance workers are set to strike for 24 hours on 29 January across England and the Society of Radiographers plan to walk out for six hours. 

This will be the third national strike in the pay dispute with Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt. 

He has refused even a measly 1 percent pay rise to 60 percent of NHS staff in England. 

And the Tories’ planned attacks on unsocial hours pay rates have increased the mood to fight among NHS workers. 

Karen Reissmann, Unison national and health executive member, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. She said, “There’s been a real shift in the mood. 

“We had a militant minority and a supportive—but passive—majority. Now that’s changed to become an angry majority.”

Karen explained what the new attack would mean for health workers. 

“Many health workers are forced to subsidise low pay by working shifts,” she said.

Unsocial

“For shift workers, getting rid of unsocial hours rates would mean a 20 to 30 percent cut. It would affect hundreds of thousands of staff.

“People know that and that’s why they’re so angry. More people are joining the union. In my workplace, we’ve had 21 new applications this year already.” 

Royal Bristol Infirmary nurse Salena agreed. She said, “People are much more worried about unsocial hours than about 1 percent. If we don’t fight now, then what are the Tories going to get away with down the line?” 

The NHS dispute is about more than just pay. The walkout will take place as the health service plunges deeper into crisis.

It faces acute staffing problems as skyrocketing workloads make workers ill and push others out of the health service altogether.  

This meltdown was caused by a toxic combination of savage cuts in health and local government. 

The Tories’ slash and burn policy in social services is making it harder for health workers to discharge patients into social care. 

It means that the NHS is bearing the brunt of austerity—but is also at the cutting edge of resistance to austerity. 

That’s why we need to make the health strikes in January and February a focus for working class resistance. 

During last autumn’s strikes trade unionists collected hundreds of pounds in workplaces. And hundreds joined picket lines in solidarity with health workers. 

That helped make the walkouts so powerful. They need to do that again. 

Karen said, “The Tories have been overconfident, particularly since the unions settled the local government pay dispute. 

Serious

“There was real anger about the sellout, but the government thought that the unions weren’t serious in the health dispute either. 

“The Tories are driving down pay to open the door to the private sector. But a 12-hour strike also marks a serious escalation on our side.” 

Health workers are asking people to join their picket lines and rallies. 

“Picketing will depend on local areas,” said Karen. “In many places, picket lines will be biggest between 9am and 10am. 

“In our area we’re also asking people to join our rally at 12.30pm in Manchester University Students’ Union.” 

In the north west of England, there will be rallies in Carlisle, Liverpool and Preston. 

Salena added, “We’re planning an indoor rally in Bristol, and want other workers to come to it.”

We need to roll this out across England. 

Every trade unionist and campaigner needs to build solidarity for the strike—organise collections in your workplace and send a delegation to the picket lines and rallies. 

The Tories have upped the stakes with their latest attack—we need to up our resistance to stop them. 


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.