Socialist Worker

NHS pay fightback continues as thousands of health workers fill the streets

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2717

Around 2,000 people took to the streets in London

Around 2,000 people took to the streets in London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The NHS pay revolt took off on Saturday as thousands marched in towns and cities across Britain. 

Health and care workers are furious at the Tories’ refusal to give them a pay rise after the coronavirus crisis. 

Around 2,000 health workers marched past Downing Street, central London, chanting, “Boris Johnson hear us shout, pay us properly or get out.” 

Hundreds of people protested in Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, Swansea, Merthyr Tydfil, Norwich, Nottingham, Glasgow and at least 20 other places. 

Elaine, an intensive care nurse came with a delegation from Chelmsford to the London demo. She said having no pay rise was a “slap in the face”. 

The NHS workers leading a grassroots pay revolt say—‘we’ve had enough!’
The NHS workers leading a grassroots pay revolt say—‘we’ve had enough!’
  Read More

“I’d like to see Boris Johnson working for 12 hours sweating in PPE,” she told Socialist Worker. “We saw one of our nurses die on a ventilator. 

“Being a nurse is a profession—not a vocation—we need to pay the bills. We’re sick of not having a pay rise”.

The majority of health workers at the forefront of the pay revolt have never been involved in activism before. 

In Chesterfield—where around 450 people marched—the protest was put on by nurse Matt who’s never been involved in organising before.

“The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted how the NHS is an underfunded service, how staff put their lives on the line to help people,” he told Socialist Worker. 

“The public know we are overworked and understaffed and that’s bad for patient and staff safety.”

He added that they would “continue to fight” and health workers “will not be ignored”. 

Kim, a community nurse in Plymouth and another first-time organiser, says there was “good support” from health workers and others. 

“We’ve all just had enough of being left behind,” she told Socialist Worker. 

Protesters in Sheffield marched through the city centre

Protesters in Sheffield marched through the city centre

“Enough of being underfunded, understaffed, underpaid. And now there’s everything that we’ve been through”. 

Workers' anger is fuelled by Tory ministers’ hypocrisy of joining the Claps for the NHS at the height of the crisis.

Cat from Stevenage, Hertfordshire, came to London with a banner reading, “Where’s our vital contribution?” 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak gave paltry pay rises to 900,000 public sector workers for their “vital contribution” during the pandemic—but left out the NHS. 

“I work full time, so does my husband, and we’re still on Universal Credit—it’s not right,” Cat told Socialist Worker.

Kwame, a nurse from London, says he “appreciates the claps, but it’s not enough”. “They could tax the rich and help staff in the NHS,” he told Socialist Worker, “the people saving lives get peanuts.”

Earlier in the day several hundred health workers assembled outside St Thomas’ Hospital opposite Parliament in central London, then took the road.

Chants of, “Boris, we don’t want your clap—we want our money back,” and, “Enough is enough” rang out as people marched across Westminster Bridge to the main demonstration. 

Lana, a nurse in London, came to her first protest because “we need to be heard”. 

“It was very, very disappointing, very heart-breaking to be left out after we treated Boris Johnson,” she told Socialist Worker. “Afterwards he said he understood that we were underpaid and promised that changes were coming.”

She added, “I felt like I couldn’t sit down anymore—we have to rise up in unity for what we deserve.” 

Inequality

Around 500 protesters gathered in Glasgow, many clutching home made placards, including ones declaring “No to public sector inequality” and “The only good Tory is a suppository.”

Around 500 health workers and their supporters also protested in Newcastle. Nurse and protest organiser Sarah Richardson said, “They’ve neglected us, they’ve ignored us. Their claps, their words of sentiment are not really meaningful.”

In Essex an angry march of 350 people went from Basildon hospital to Basildon town centre.

Initiated by grassroots NHS workers in Basildon, support came from Southend, Colchester, and Tilbury NHS workers and supporters.

Impassioned and heartfelt speeches were heard at the beginning and end of the march, telling o fthe impact of the pandemic on workers, the effects of austerity, and the hypocrisy of the Tories.

The unions were also called upon to take action to end the pay freeze.

Meanwhile, around 150 people gathered in Hull City Centre.

Speakers included local trade unionists and Labour councillors, who expressed anger at the Tory pay insult, budget cuts and privatisation. There were banners from unions including, the NEU, City Unison, East Riding GMB, Unite and Hull and District Trades Council.

On the protest in Basildon

On the protest in Basildon (Pic: Coral Burford)


In Brighton around 250 health workers and their supporters gathered in front of the Sussex County hospital for a march and rally.

The march was called by Nurses United and the GMB union at very short notice.

At the rally, Kelly Robbins from the GMB and Nurses United spoke of the tremendous sacrifices that health workers had made over the last few months, with over 500 of them paying the ultimate price for their dedication.

GMB organiser Gary Palmer referred to differences between the health unions over arriving at a united pay claim, and urged the rank and file health workers of all the unions involved to put their demands to their respective unions and exercise their democratic rights as members of those unions to ensure those demands are presented to the government.

Other speakers included Phelim McCafferty, leader of the Green Party, which has resumed overall control of the council. Amanda Evans and Ben Armstrong from spoke in support of the health workers; campaign, and a message of support was read out from the local MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle.

The march organisers have pledged to continue their campaign, and announced another march and rally later on in August.

Chanting

Over 100 people supported the march for fair pay in Coventry, chanting, “What do we want? Fair pay. When do we want it? Now.”

Health workers from Coventry, Nuneaton and Warwick hospitals attended.

Coventry Labour MP Zara Sultana spoke at the rally in support for the campaign. Other speakers included from representatives from Coventry trades council and Keep Our NHS Public

All speakers stressed that this was just the start of the campaign.

Around 100 health workers and their supporters gathered at Bournemouth Square to demand pay justice. Sarah from Poole hospital said, "We don't do it for the money, but after months of commitment and exhaustion we expect some recognition and clapping isn't enough".

After a march around the town centre there were more angry speeches back at the square.

Several protesters then went on to the Black live Matter protest a short way away.

Around 80 people joined a protest in Ipswich. They marched from Christchurch Park into town, then rallied and heard nurses speak of their struggle. Meanwhile in Dorchester, NHS dietician Lynne Hubbard, said, “Around 100 people protested and marched.

“It included physiotherapists, junior doctors, nurses, dieticians and GPs from the Dorset county hospital, mental health services and the community.”

Around 100 health workers and their supporters joined the pay protest in Portsmouth. This included a rally, two-minute silence for NHS staff who died of coronavirus casualties and a march to Southsea Common.

In Sheffield, around 350 people marched through the city centre. The protest which was organised at a grassroots level, received support from the Rotherham trades council and Sheffield TUC.

An angry demonstration of up to 300 people and led by young health workers filled College Green in Bristol. Anti-racism was a big focus of many speeches, after a local black NHS worker was driven into in a racist attack in July.

Anger on the streets in London

Anger on the streets in London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Ministers argue that the NHS is in the ­middle of a three year pay deal, amounting to 6.5 percent. 

But the pay deal was mis-sold by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Unison union leaderships in 2018. Workers were led to believe that they would receive more money in their pay packets than they did.

And the deal came on the back of a ten-year pay freeze under Labour and Tory governments, which overall has led to a 20 percent pay cut in real terms.

Yei, another nurse in London, says she’s “already relying on credit cards”. “It’s very difficult for people. As soon as things return to normal, they just kick us.” 

The health workers are right to demand a 15 percent increase and fight for it now, not wait for the union leaders. 

The day of action showed the power of grassroots initiative. They need to keep organising themselves and put pressure on the union leaders to fight. 

The campaign is organising a day of action on 26 August. And the Unison union in Scotland has called for a demonstration across the country on 18 August. Every trade unionist, socialist and campaigner must get behind the pay revolt and deliver a blow to the Tories. 


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