Chants of “scrap the cap” rang out outside parliament today, Wednesday, as Theresa May faced her first prime minister’s question time after the summer break.
Hundreds of nurses and their supporters from across Britain joined the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) rally against the 1 percent public sector pay cap.
Amina, an RCN member from south London, told Socialist Worker, “My wages are the same now as when I started in 2009. It’s been very difficult and stressful working in health service with all the cuts we face.
“It’s just demoralising, we’re being asked to do more for less.”
Poverty pay has forced Amina to live with her husband and four children in a one bedroom flat. “With rent, bills and travel it’s especially hard in London,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I went to the shopping centre to buy something for my children.”
Anger at this sort of poverty is driving nurses to protest against the Tories’ pay cap—and to consider a strike.
Amina said, “I had a baby last November. I had to breast feed and look after the baby in the kitchen so I wouldn’t wake anyone up. I got so upset that we have to do this—and that’s when I started lobbying with the RCN”.
In a pay consultation in May some 76 percent of RCN members said they would be willing to take industrial action.
At the rally RCN council member Michael Brown warned the Tories that they could face action.
“If we hear nothing by the time of the budget, I am ready to take the next step and ballot for industrial action,” he said. “That’s not a threat, it’s a reality.”
He added, “I know many of you feel the time has come—we will not back away from this.”
The RCN leadership have not said what form this industrial action would take.
Ioana, a nurse, told Socialist Worker, “For the 36 years I’ve been a nurse, I would never have voted for industrial action. But I would be prepared to now.”
Amina added, “Most of my friends have already gone to other jobs because of the pay and workload. I would go on strike, because it’s for the benefit of the patients.”
Senior figures in the government have hinted that the pay cap could be lifted—at least for some workers.
But Janet Davies, RCN chief executive, said, “We have heard many thing in the health service, we’ll believe it when we see it. Our message is, ‘Scrap the cap’.”
Unions should not be demobilised by the Tories’ words—but mobilise the anger over pay.
The PCS civil service workers’ union has announced a consultative ballot over pay running between 6 October and 9 November.
The CWU union is also balloting for national strikes by postal workers in Royal Mail.
Other unions, including the largest public sector union Unison, should campaign for above-inflation pay rises and ballot their members for strikes over pay.