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Health workers say ‘strikes are only way’ to protect the NHS

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Issue 2766
Health workers demand a proper pay rise on a protest in London last month
Health workers demand a proper pay rise on a protest in London last month (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Furious health workers in England are readying themselves for industrial action as more unions ballot over the Tories’ meagre 3 percent pay rise.

Both Unite and the nurses’ RCN unions last week announced they will ask their members if they want to accept or reject the government’s imposed offer.

They will join Unison and the GMB members, who have already started voting. Ballots in all unions close in September.

The prospect of strikes in the health service is rising fast, says Matt Tacey, a psychiatric nurse and RCN rep in Sheffield.

“We either go big or we go home,” Matt told Socialist Worker.

“The only way to protect our patients from unsafe staffing, and protect our colleagues from burn out, is to take drastic action. We need to strike.”

“There is pure anger on the floor. People are sick to the back teeth of what has happened to the NHS. Of course, the last 18 months of pandemic have been hell but we’ve had ten years of austerity to deal with.

“Nurses’ pay is down by 20 percent and thousands of posts are unfilled.

“Lots of people now understand that the government don’t value us. The thousands of nurses who are today struggling with long Covid or post-traumatic stress are the lucky ones.

“Think about the more than a thousand colleagues who have lost their lives to Covid.

“It’s criminal not to reward us, but that’s the Tories all over.”

RCN rep Matt Tacey

RCN rep Matt Tacey

Matt says that some RCN members are angry, but worried that a strike could badly affect patients. He is at pains to explain that “massive preparation” will go into planning for safety during a strike.

“No patient will be put at risk,” he says. “There will be full assessments of what staff will need to stay on duty”.

“Everyone knows we are currently unsafe. Staffing is so low, so many posts are unfilled that patients are always at risk. We have to ask ourselves, how will anything change for the better if we don’t take drastic action?

“This is why we must strike.”


The task now is to ensure the maximum possible turnout and vote to reject the offer, says Matt.

“The ballot is a key test and every member has to act,” he says. “I’m telling everyone I work with that if they don’t vote, the government will count that as a vote to accept 3 percent.”

Matt is right. Ensuring a large turnout in all the union ballots is crucial if activists are to go on to a formal vote for industrial action.

Some union leaders are looking for a way of avoiding confrontation. And they will use a low turnout as an excuse to accept the government’s pay rise and “move on”.

Activists have to ensure that doesn’t happen. That means running the most imaginative campaign possible, including a mass of social media posts of people saying they’ve voted to reject.

Stalls outside canteens with laptops, so people can vote there and then, are also a good idea.

Stickers, posters and banners should be around every NHS workplace.

The fight over NHS pay is the best chance we have to turn the tide on the Tories’ plans to wreck the health service.

When are the unions balloting? 

Unison—balloting now until 10 September

GMB—balloting now until 17 September

RCN—balloting from 12 August until 13 September

Unite—balloting from 27 August until 24 September

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