Socialist Worker

Frustration as unions call off health strikes

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2438

Many health workers in England are frustrated that unions have called off strikes planned for this Thursday and next month.

The Unison, Unite and GMB unions, the Society of Radiographers and the Royal College of Midwives all wrongly cancelled the walkouts after last minute talks with the government.

The majority of health workers in England and Northern Ireland were set to walk out for 12 hours this Thursday. Ambulance workers in the GMB were set to strike for 24 hours.

Karen Reissmann, Unison national and health service group executive (SGE) member, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. She said, “This is a completely wasted opportunity. 

“It’s an insult to all those people who struck last time, who were going to strike this time, and who’ve just joined the union. 

“We had the Tories on the run - that’s why the government agreed hold talks with the unions.”

Workers in the University College Hospital (UCH)  in central London were shocked by the decision. 

“What? Has everyone got what they wanted now?” asked one health worker. 

Sarah a nurse added, “People were joining the union because they wanted to strike.” 

According to Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea, "This isn't a great offer but it addresses some of the key concerns unions have about low pay in the NHS. In the interest of patients' safety unions will now consult members."

In contrast Karen pointed out, “Workers won’t get a penny more in 2014/15 - there are absolutely no changes for this year.  

“Those on the top increment would get a 1 percent unconsolidated pay rise this year, but with nothing for the rest.

“Everyone would get a 1 percent consolidated pay rise next year, with £200 for people who earn up to £17,425.”

Members in the ambulance service were annoyed with the proposals, which fall far short of what they’re demanding. 

Unison also said that it would treat an attack on unsocial hours' pay as a separate issue. 

Karen said, “We should be demanding that the government bins the unsocial hours proposals and that the pay review body stands down.

“We can get so much more by carrying on the action. We forced the government to make these concessions - and we’re just at the beginning of our campaign.” 

The health strikes had a massive political impact. 

Karen said, “The Tories are under pressure, with just 98 days to go until a general election where the NHS is a major issue.

“The last thing they want is health workers standing on picket lines saying that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the system we work in."

The pressure is also on union leaders to shut down action and get behind Labour’s general election campaign.  

The new proposals, if accepted, could avoid unions having a dispute with a potential Labour government after May’s general election. 

But the health strikes showed what the real alternative to austerity is - workers fighting back together. 

“We have to make sure health workers know that there’s a ballot on - organise meetings with health workers and health question times," said Karen.

“We have to do everything to get a No vote and get the strikes back on."

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