Socialist Worker

Thousands of NHS staff begin voting on action over pay

Issue No. 2766

At the NHS demo against the Tories pay insult on Friday

At the NHS demo against the Tories' pay insult on Friday (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Thousands of health ­workers received online ballot papers this week asking them if they are ­prepared to take industrial action over pay.

Members of Unison, the ­largest health union, are being asked whether they accept the ­government’s appalling 3 percent pay offer.

They are also being consulted as to whether they are prepared to take “lawful industrial action” to win more.

The union’s leadership has told members that 3 percent is “not acceptable”.

Jordan Rivera, a leading ­activist from Homerton hospital, says that the battle now is to ensure the ­biggest possible vote for action.

“We got until 10 September to get the votes in,” she told Socialist Worker. “And we’ve got to be ambitious”

“The most important thing is to start talking about the pay campaign to everyone you work with.

“Voting is taking place online, so there is a great opportunity to get colleagues to vote there and then.”

Health workers rage at Tory pay insult outside Downing Street
Health workers rage at Tory pay insult outside Downing Street
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Angry

“People are so angry about ­everything that has happened to us during the pandemic. This is a chance to show the government just what we think”.

The ballot is also a great ­opportunity to sign people up to the union, says Jordan.

“When you go to Unison’s online site you can click on a button to vote if you are already a member. But you can also click another button to join the union and then vote.”

Unison activists are planning to run lunchtime stalls outside hospital canteens, with laptops so people can vote or join up there and then.

Many branches are holding online meetings to let everyone know about how the pay fight is progressing.

And they also are planning ward rounds to spread the word among nurses and nursing assistants.

Encouraging

The GMB union this week announced it would also be ­balloting over NHS pay. It recommends its members reject the Tories’ 3 percent.

The nurses’ RCN union also appears ready to ballot.

It has been taking part in a “Summer of Action” series of ­protests and is encouraging ­members to join campaigns.

It is hosting a major online rally next week and says information about voting will be released shortly.

Jordan says the mood for action is so strong that even NHS workplaces with low levels of union ­organisation can get involved.

“My advice to anyone in a weaker workplace who wants to fight is to chat about pay with ­everyone you work with,” she said. “And go online to the ­various forums.

“Ask if anyone in your area wants to get in touch. You’ll easily find others that want to get involved. From there, you can get campaigning.”

With the Tories deeply ­unpopular on the health service, and NHS workers furious about what they’ve been put through, there could hardly be a better time to strike.

Unison members employed by the NHS in England can vote at nhspay.org

Tory Ken Clarke labelled ‘a disgrace’ at blood inquiry

Tory former health secretary Ken Clarke has been branded a “total disgrace” over his behaviour at infected blood scandal inquiry hearings last week.

Lord Clarke appeared before the inquiry as a witness but could not hide his disdain for it, complaining of his “exasperation” at “pointless” and “irrelevant” questions.

The inquiry is into one of the most devastating and shameful events in the history of the NHS.

Almost 3,000 people died after being treated with blood products infected with hepatitis C and HIV in the late 1970s and 1980s.

A cover-up operation followed, and so far no one has been held to account.

Clarke, who was first a junior minister and then health secretary during the long reign of Margaret Thatcher, is thought by campaigners to be a central figure in the story.

Yet the peer used his appearance to talk of “absurd tabloid spin”, and contested the meaning of the minutes of meetings of his former department.

Contaminated blood victim says, inquiry must deliver real justice
Contaminated blood victim says, inquiry must deliver real justice
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Important

At one point, he asked, “Why do we have to go through such meticulous detail through who said what when, when did he change his mind?”

He added that it was “interesting” but “pretty pointless”.

But the detail is important.

While a health minister, Clarke is on record saying, “It has been suggested that Aids may be transmitted in blood or blood products, there is no conclusive proof that this is so. Nevertheless I can well appreciate the concern that this suggestion may cause.”

He told the inquiry that the government was right to say in 1983 that there was “no conclusive proof” that Aids could be transmitted by blood products because it was not firmly established until some years later.

But inquiry documents show senior health officials in his department thought it likely HIV could be carried in blood. The HIV virus can cause Aids.

Transmission

Jenni Richards QC asked Clarke why the phrase “blood products are a likely cause of transmission of Aids” was not used instead.

It was, she said, the “mainstream view” in the department of health at that time, according to earlier testimony from Dr Diana Walford, a former deputy chief medical officer for England.

Clarke replied, “You’ll have to ask Diana Walford that.”

Jason Evans, who was at the inquiry, was not impressed. His father died of Aids in 1993 after being convinced by doctors to continue using a blood product that many were speculating was contaminated.

“Clarke has no respect for this inquiry or anyone involved in it,” he told the BBC. He said Clarke had been a “total disgrace” during the week. The inquiry will return to take more evidence in September.


Report finds epidemic of loneliness in England

People’s wellbeing is on the decline in England, according to a new report.

The number of adults feeling lonely has increased since 2017 and in the last year jumped by 44 percent from 2.6 million to 3.7 million.

Meanwhile, trust in the government is at an all-time low after a near 40 percent drop from 2018. Analysis by the Carnegie UK Trust uses official statistics to produce an alternative measure of social progress, called Gross Domestic Wellbeing.

It is important to note that the report says the decline in wellbeing started before the pandemic. And the charity also warns wellbeing will get worse not better.

According to this measure of whether life is getting better or worse, England’s score was 6.79 out of 10 for 2019-20 compared to 6.89 for 2018-19.

The trust argues that giving preference to economic data doesn’t take into account how people are feeling about their lives, and so another measure is necessary.

But the Gross Domestic Wellbeing index is itself being severely hampered by delays in publishing official data relating to people’s welfare.

While economic data takes the Office for National Statistics some eight months to process, social data can take more than a year and a half.


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