Health workers in towns and cities across Britain protested on Saturday to demand a pay rise.
Chants of “Keep our NHS alive” rang out in front of the BBC in central London on Saturday, where over 300 workers demonstrated. It was one of several planned across Britain, including in Bristol, Brighton, Manchester, Bournemouth, Derby and Norwich.
A surge in Covid-19 cases—caused by the Tory drive to lift the lockdown—led some organisers to call off physical protests and hold online rallies.
But other physical protests still took place—and anger over the Tories’ refusal to grant a pay rise remains.
Ruth, who joined protest in London, says workers are “already on the floor” from the first wave of coronavirus. “I’m a nursing assistant and the pay is around £25,000 a year,” she told Socialist Worker. “That’s rubbish.
“We are working hard and we are even risking our lives—but we are still struggling on low pay.”
The crowd in central London marched off to Trafalgar Square after a rally outside the BBC headquarters.
A lively delegation marched down from UCH hospital in central London chanting, “Boris Johnson hear us shout, pay us properly or get out.”
Bola, a nurse who was on her first protest, said low morale among workers was fuelling a staffing crisis in the NHS. “Lots of people are leaving because we’re being undermined in what we do,” she told Socialist Worker.
“We’re being asked to work more and not being paid properly.”
She added, “We’ve got to make the government aware that we are not keeping quiet.There has to be a change.”
The Tories left out the NHS from public sector pay increases awarded for workers’ “vital contribution” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ministers claim that the NHS is in the middle of a three‑year pay deal which increases wages by 6.5 percent.
But the leaderships of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Unison union mis-sold the deal. Many workers were led to believe that they would have more than they ended up with.
And that deal came on the back of a ten-year pay freeze which has led to up to a 20 percent real terms pay cut.
On the Manchester protest, nurse Karen Reissmann slammed the Tory lies over NHS pay. “We’re here today to send the message to the government—to Boris Johnson, to Rishi Sunak, to all the other Tories,” she told the crowd.
“How dare you in 2020 of all years—after everything that we have done, after the sacrifices that health workers have made—give us pay rises below inflation.
“If you were at the top of your pay band, you had a 1.67 percent pay rise this year and that’s below inflation.It was below inflation last year.”
Union leaders are split over pay. TheUnite and GMB unions have been pushed to accept the grassroots campaigns’ demand for a 15 percent pay rise.
Meanwhile, the RCN is supporting a 12.5 percent rise.And Unison, the largest health union, is calling for a £2,000 rise for all health workers “as soon as possible”.
It has been pushed to organise a “Two days for 2K” workplace campaigning days next week. East London occupational therapist Jordan said it was “welcome” that the union had called it, but said it would be “up to us to deliver something in the hospitals”.
Activists can use the official days of action to build the grassroots networks fighting over pay.