Socialist Worker

Keep up the fight to save the NHS

Half a million health workers were set to strike this Thursday, 29 January, but union leaders were set to call it off writes Tomáš Tengely-Evans

Issue No. 2438

Health workers at St Georges Hospital in Tooting, London, on strike last November

Health workers at St George's Hospital in Tooting, London, on strike last November (Pic: Ben Windsor)

Up to 500,000 health workers were set to walk out for 12 hours on Thursday of this week. But as Socialist Worker went to press there were fears that leaders of the Unison union were looking to suspend the action. 

It was suggested that the Tories and union leaders had cobbled together a similar deal as in last year’s local government pay dispute. 

Any such deal would be a serious mistake. It would leave health workers underpaid, overworked and stressed. It would throw away a chance to mobilise a huge campaign in defence of the NHS. 

It was not clear what other unions would do. They should strike regardless of what Unison leaders decide.

Healthworkers must reject any such deal, and everyone who hates the Tories must keep fighting to stop the destruction of the health service.

It is not enough to hope that Labour will save it.

The crisis in the NHS is partly caused by health cuts, closures and privatisation. But it is also because the NHS is the place where all the other Tory cuts are focused. 

Slashing local government means that people who could leave hospital are denied the care that would let them return to their homes. 

When a million people use food banks don’t be surprised that illness soars.

Homeless people and those in overcrowded housing are more likely to need the NHS.

The strike set for this week was about pay. Health workers are furious that health secretary Jeremy Hunt has refused to give most even a 1 percent pay rise. 

The Tories then upped the stakes by launching a fresh attack on unsocial hours pay. 

Disgustingly Hunt said the strike had “the potential to affect patient safety to an unacceptable level” and put lives at risk.

This was utter hypocrisy. It is Tory policies that are costing lives and threatening patients. By defending the NHS, strikers are protecting us all.


The letter calling on workers to scab on the strike

The letter calling on workers to scab on the strike

Documents shown to Socialist Worker reveal bosses’ desperate attempts to get nurses and doctors to scab on the strike. Ron Singer from the doctors’ section of Unite condemned the move. He said, “The government always says that health workers going on strike will cause patient fatalities.

“But it is dangerous to get people to do jobs they aren’t trained to do. We should reject management’s requests and join any picket lines.”

Trade unionists and campaigners were collecting money to show their support for the strike, and planned to join health workers’ picket lines in solidarity. 

Students were also backing the action. “I’ll definitely support health workers if they strike,” Imperial College medical student Alex told Socialist Worker. 

“I’ve got six years left on my course—but I’m worried that the NHS won’t be there when I graduate.”

Ed Miliband said last week that “The future of the NHS is at stake in this general election”.

On Tuesday he pledged to repeal the hated Health and Social Care Act and recruit more staff. 

But Labour remains committed to the Tories’ spending cuts. And the 36,000 more health workers Labour promises are at least 24,000 fewer than the Tories have cut.

If Labour supports the NHS, it should promise far more—including the reversal of all the Tory cuts, decent pay for healthworkers, an end to privatisation and the  abolition of the Private Finance Initiative schemes that are so destructive of the health service.

The Tories reopened NHS pay talks this week because they know that most of the public back NHS workers and blame the Tories for the crisis.

They feared that the strikes would deepen the political crisis they face. 

Some union leaders clearly believe that the strike may embarrass Labour and that therefore the battle should be called off.

Such a surrender emphasises the need to fight for a different leadership in Unison.

Our health service matters too much to be thrown away.

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