Many health workers are angry that their unions suspended a walkout that was planned in England for Thursday of last week.
It’s crucial they fight to get the strikes back on in defence of the NHS, and workers’ pay and conditions.
Four health unions, Unison, Unite and the GMB and Society of Radiographers —as well as the Royal College of Midwives—wrongly suspended the walkout after last minute talks.
Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s refusal to give even 1 percent pay rise proposed by a review body prompted the dispute.
But the new deal on offer doesn’t give workers a penny more this year. Karen Reissmann, Unison national and health service group executive (SGE) member, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.
She said, “The Tories are now offering workers a 1 percent consolidated pay rise for next year. But because there’s no change this year, it’s not even a real pay rise.
“This has made people more pissed off.”
And the health strikes were about much more than pay. Last autumn’s strikes showed that the NHS can become a focus for working class resistance to austerity.
Karen said, “This is a completely wasted opportunity. We had the Tories on the run, with less than
90 days to go until the general election where the NHS is a major issue.
“The last thing they want is health workers standing on picket lines saying there’s something fundamentally wrong with the system we work in.”
Even health bosses in England’s largest hospitals were refusing to sign off on their annual budget agreement last week.
NHS financial watchdog Monitor is trying to force hospitals to cut 3.8 percent through “efficiency savings”, but it is has now been forced to delay imposing the deal.
This is just one sign of the pressure that the Tories and NHS bosses are under.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the Tories who wanted to see the health strikes suspended. Union leaders were hoping to use the health strikes to hurt the Tories, and to shape Labour’s agenda.
Labour has made the NHS its major issue in the general election campaign. But while it hopes to be seen as the champion of the NHS, it is still committed to the Tory pay freeze and public spending cuts.
A deal to end the health workers’ strikes would avoid the unions having a dispute with a potential Labour government in the run-up to May’s general election—and for a whole year afterwards.
But last autumn’s health strikes showed what the real alternative to austerity. Campaigners organised a health question time in Bolton last week.
“Eighty people came and they all gave the Tories a hard time,” said Karen. “It really showed people’s anger against what they’re doing and the potential.”
Unison’s health SGE was set to meet on Tuesday to decide how it will consult its members. If workers reject the proposal, Unison has said it would call its members out on 13 March.
Every activist now has to fight for a No vote and get the action back on.