Socialist Worker

No delays—turn anger over NHS pay into united strikes

Issue No. 2773

A NHS protest earlier this year

A NHS protest earlier this year (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Furious health workers are pushing unions to step up the fight after record-breaking votes to reject the Tories’ imposed 3 percent “pay rise”.

Members of the biggest NHS union, Unison, have voted by 80 ­percent to say “no” to the pay insult. In results released this week, just one in five said they would accept the offer.

The results of an RCN ballot in England and Wales announced last week showed over 90 percent of nurses who voted rejected the deal.

And 93 percent of GMB union members have rejected the award.

After 18 months of hell during the pandemic, no wonder health workers are livid at low pay and unbearable workloads.

Everyone knows that vacancies are at an all-time high, and that poverty wages are stopping people from working in the NHS.

Now, with inflation rising fast, fuel bills rocketing and a National Insurance rise on the way, the Tories’ pay plan looks even worse.

The unions’ key task is to link the pay fight to patient safety and excess workloads—and thereby mobilise the anger to win a strike vote.

Danger

There is a danger that union leaders will ignore the whopping votes to reject 3 percent, and instead dwell on the moderate turnouts in ballots.

Just over a quarter of RCN members voted in their ballot, with the Unison vote slightly higher.

Matt Tacey, a psychiatric nurse and RCN rep in Sheffield, thinks the unions must act fast to take advantage of workers’ anger.

“Talking to ministers and having another consultative ballot on whether we want to take action is just delay,” he told Socialist Worker. “Getting a vote of over 90 percent to reject the 3 percent pay offer should be enough to go ahead with a proper strike vote.”

Matt says the RCN should use the 25 percent turnout it got as a ­“springboard” to win an industrial action ballot.

“If everyone who voted convinces just one other RCN member to do the same, we’ve got this,” he said. “We need to get face to face with people on wards and engage with them. Everyone is angry about being short staffed, so we should talk about how a pay fight could change that.

“The RCN has got a massive

£35 million in its strike fund. We need to use it,” he said.

But RCN leaders say that after the ballot result the “ball is now with the government”.

That means waiting weeks for some sort of reply from Sajid Javid’s department of health— a reply that everyone knows will be “No”.

Matt is right, the time for talking is past. Now health workers must strike, both for their pay and to protect the NHS.


NHS unions could ballot for strikes after pay insult
NHS unions could ballot for strikes after pay insult
  Read More

Build pressure for action

There are rumours that Unison will announce a further consultative ballot before any move to put forward a strike vote.

The strategy is due to be discussed at the union’s online health conference this week.

A protracted consultation risks dissipating the anger of the moment, rather than building up forces over time, as many full time officials argue.

There are also some in the union’s leadership that argue against strikes, saying they would be seen as an attack on the NHS during a period of crisis. But unless health workers strike quickly, the Tories will ignore morale-busting

understaffing, and the terrible conditions in the health service will get worse.

The GMB union says it will “move to a strike ballot” but is also calling for talks with ministers.

Health workers in all the unions must take seriously any further consultative ballots.

The more they are able to improve turnout out, and get a vote for action, the more pressure the union leaders will face— and the more likely the strikes will become.


Patients die waiting for care to come

There is growing anger in Scotland after a man was found dead after waiting more than 40 hours for an ambulance.

Reports say many vulnerable patients are waiting well over ten hours for urgent care as emergency call numbers rise.

The service is now so overwhelmed that soldiers have been drafted into drive emergency vehicles.

Politicians are quick to blame Covid-19 numbers for the backlog.

In reality, it is decades of health service and social care cuts that have brought Scotland to this point.

Service

Long term understaffing in the ambulance service has been compounded by staff illness and the need to

self-isolate.

But there’s also a huge problem getting patients out of hospital and into social care, because of the crisis there.

That leads to a lack of hospital beds, and then to a backlog of ambulances trying to drop off patients at hospital.

Crews are often waiting hours to hand over their patients, and that stops

them attending other urgent calls.


The private hospitals that make big bucks

Private hospitals are raking in huge profits as the NHS suffers.

As health service waiting lists hit 5.6 million this summer many people suffering pain and worry have been forced to cough up hundreds of pounds to see a specialist.

Most of them are people without private medical insurance, and are using their savings to pay medical bills.

Others, who have lost jobs during the pandemic, are having to take out loans in order to have vital procedures.

Some dentists now say that the wait for a tooth extraction could be as long as three years.


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