Socialist Worker

Trade unionists debate how to confront Tory attacks

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2762

NHS workers march in London to demand a pay rise

NHS workers march in London to demand a pay rise (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The People Before Profit group launched an updated Covid-19 emergency programme to defend workers rights—and a call to action—in an online rally on Tuesday.

More than 200 people joined the rally with striking workers, various campaigners and Labour MPs John McDonnell and Diane Abbott.

Karen Reissmann—a nurse fined £10,000 for organising a protest over NHS pay—said the Tories’ plans after lifting lockdown restrictions made the relaunch important.

“The Tories have ramped up attacks,” she said. “We’ve got loads of bills going through parliament attacking us from all sorts of angles.

“And we’ve seen in the last couple of days a government that’s prepared to lift all health restrictions and add even more to the unnecessary deaths. They’re saying quite literally you are on your own.

“It’s part of saying we don’t care about you-we don’t’ care whether you die, we don’t care if your health service collapses.”

Speakers and people from the floor had different ideas about how to fight back.

Richard Langworthy, who spoke from the floor, asked what could be done to defend the NHS against the Tories planned new health and care bill. The bill will allow the government to take direct control of parts of the NHS and concentrate new powers in the hands of the health secretary.

Rebecca Bryson, a health worker, replied by pointing to NHS protests last Saturday. She explained how these helped to build support for campaigning and strikes.

“We ended up with loads and loads of events all over the country,” she said. She added that in the build up to her protest in Chesterfield, “We did banner drops, we did leafleting outside of hospitals, we did street stalls. We got so much support it’s really given us so much to build on.”

She added, “I know a lot of stuff is happening in parliament. But the Tories have a majority—this fight is not going to be won in parliament, it’s going to be won in the streets and the workplaces.”

Some speakers pointed to examples of protests and direct action that have got results.

Construction 

Joe Pisani spoke from the Unite union’s construction rank and file group. He described how protests against Balfour Beatty bosses stopped an attempt to undercut industry terms and conditions at Hinkley Point power station.

“The national construction rank and file got together and we then started protesting at offices throughout Britain,” he said. “We relentlessly hit all these different workplaces. We then scaled it up and went to clients of Balfour Beatty.

“We were using all this to systematically wear them down. We decided to keep gong with the actions even though talks were ongoing.”

He added, “We need direct action on parliament, everywhere, go at it like that.”

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Other people pointed to examples of successful and strong strikes. Peta Bulmer from the Liverpool University UCU union spoke about workers’ ongoing battle to stop redundancies.

“You need solid strikes—a day here and there is not going to cut it,” she said. “We’re absolutely determined we’re going to keep striking. We’re looking at striking again next month.”

Peta also called for similar battles at several other universities to be brought together into a single, national dispute.

Donny Gluckstein, a lecturer in the EIS-Fela union, spoke from the floor about a succesfull college strike across Scotland. 

“The action was not token action. It was started with the intention that we keep going until we win,” he said. “If you have determined action, if you see an injury to one is an injury to all and have solidarity then you can win.”

Karen called for strikes against low pay in the NHS. “We have to be bold and confident,” she said. “I think it’s about time we stopped saying the law says you can’t walk out.

“Maybe if even one, two, three, four, half a dozen or more hospitals people just walked out for a while and said, how dare you do this to us after the 18 months we’ve had?

“I think it’s about time we walked out and put a stop to it—not just in the health service but across the country.”

And she said “anyone who has the courage to do that” should get “the full support of the working class movement”. 

For more information on People Before Profit, go to its Facebook page 

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