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Health unions get serious in the battle to win higher pay

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Issue 2747
Health workers took to the streets over pay last summer
Health workers took to the streets over pay last summer (Pic: Socialist Worker)

There are more signs this week that health unions are serious about fighting for decent pay.

The Tories quietly announced earlier this month they were recommending that NHS staff get only a 1 percent “pay rise” this year.

The ridiculous offer sent a wave of rage through the health service.

The nurses’ RCN union was first to respond, saying that it had ­prepared a giant strike fund and was ready to use it if members voted for industrial action.

Now, the massive Unison union is moving too.

It sent out a questionnaire this week to all of its hundreds of ­thousands of members who work in NHS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The survey asked members two crucial questions.

First, were they prepared to take industrial action, short of strikes to achieve a pay rise of “at least” £2,000 a year? Second, were they prepared to take industrial action, including strikes?


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It also asked members if they were prepared to take part in workplace protests.

Unison is traditionally very slow to talk about health service strikes. But the mood of anger among workers has forced its hand.

Union leaders’ words about resistance need to be turned into action.

Strikes in the NHS could be extremely popular with the public.

People have seen how staff ­shortages have affected those ­working during the pandemic—and they know that better pay is the best way to fill vacant posts.

The news of Unison’s shift was warmly greeted at a 90-strong ­meeting of health workers ­organised by the People Before Profit group on Friday last week.

Matt, a nurse from Chesterfield, said that activists “should target colleagues who are still sitting on the fence about strikes—and those that disagree”.

He said that rather than ­putting patients at risk, striking would make them safer. “It will improve moral and staffing levels,” he said.

Karen, a nurse from Manchester, said, “We need protests outside A&Es, with staff holding posters over pay. We need cavalcades, banner drops, posters on the wards and joint union meetings.

“We have to create an ­atmosphere that says there is going to be a fight.”


Meanwhile, porters, cleaners, ­switchboard and catering workers at Cumberland infirmary plan more strikes in their long-running dispute over unsocial hours payments.

The 150 workers are employed by NHS subcontractor Mitie and struck earlier this month with Unison and GMB members ­picketing together.

They were set to strike for two day from Friday this week.

Porters at Heartlands hospital in Birmingham are also continuing their long‑running fight against new contracts and rotas forced upon them.

The Unison union members there were also preparing to strike on Friday.

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