Health workers rallied against the Tory pay insult in towns and cities across Britain on Wednesday.
The protests marked the latest day of action in a grassroots revolt over pay. The Tories left out the NHS from public sector pay increases awarded for workers “vital contribution” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Hundreds rallied outside St Thomas’ Hospital, across the Thames from parliament in central London, in the afternoon. Workers chanted, “What do we want? Pay rise. How do we get it? Strike,” and, “Enough is enough,” as they gathered outside the front.
Kwame, a domestic, said workers are angry “because during the pandemic we risked our lives and find it hard to pay our bills”.
“We have seen colleagues who have died,” he told Socialist Worker.
“The pay is especially hard for a domestic like me. I live on the Old Kent Road in a one bedroom flat with two children.”
Workers' anger has been fuelled by the hypocrisy of Tory ministers joining the weekly "Claps for the NHS" but then refusing to give them a pay rise.
Another popular chant outside St Thomas’ was, “Boris, we kept you out the hearse—now pay us what we’re worth.”
Nester, a nurse, says she joined protests for the first time over pay because “of all we’ve done during Covid-19.
“It was a scary thing, but we went in to protect the nation,” she told Socialist Worker, “and we thought we would be properly remunerated.”
Workers from other hospitals in London joined the rally outside St Thomas’, took the road and then marched on Downing Street.
Liz, a nurse from London who had coronavirus, said, “A number of us got Covid-19 and took it home to our families.
“We’ve had to look after our families, friends and colleagues too.
“We worked in PPE at 22 degrees without a break and at the end of it, it’s like we don’t matter.”
She added, “We treat people in London, but nurses can’t afford to live here.
“People are leaving nursing and they’re leaving London.”
Earlier in the afternoon workers had rallied outside Homerton University Hospital in Hackney, east London.
Protests took place in several towns and cities outside London, including Manchester and Liverpool.
In Chesterfield nurse health workers and their supporters did a mass leafleting of the hospital from 6.30am.
Nurse Matt told Socialist Worker, “We has around 30 right on the main entrance of the hospital, we handed out about a thousand flyers and the beeping of the horns didn’t stop all morning.
“We’re going to continue to make noise, to be seen and make sure healthcare workers have voice and will be heard.”
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.
The health unions are split over what to demand. Unison, the largest health union, has come out for a £2,000 a year increase across the board while the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) wants 12.5 percent.
The grassroots campaign is demanding a 15 percent increase.
Activists are preparing for another day of protests on Saturday 12 September to mount pressure on the government—and on the union leaders to launch a real fight.
The recent win over the A-Level results downgrading shows the power of the streets to force the Tories to retreat.