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NHS strikes show the power to beat Tories

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Issue 2425
Strikers were in a buoyant mood at London’s St Thomas’ Hospital
Strikers were in a buoyant mood at London’s St Thomas’ Hospital (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Up to 500,000 NHS workers in England struck for four hours on Monday of this week.

It was the first national health strike over pay for 32 years.

Unison, GMB and Unite union members all walked out and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) struck for the first time in its ­133-year history.

Health workers are furious with Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt for refusing to give most NHS workers even a 1 percent pay rise.

Linnet Johnson is a Unison rep at north London’s Whittington Hospital.

She told Socialist Worker, “We haven’t had a pay rise in the last three to five years—and we’ve had enough. Many of the lowest paid are forced to go to food banks and take out pay day loans.”

The 150-strong University College Hospital (UCH) picket in central London marched around the hospital and briefly blocked the road.

Solidarity from other workers was a feature of the day.

Forty people joined the York District Hospital picket lines. Delegations of local government and rail workers brought Unison, Unite, PCS and TSSA union banners.


Janet Maiden leads the chants on the UCH hospital picket lineUnison rep Janet Maiden leads the chants on the UCH picket line (Pic: Guy Smallman)

At Whipps Cross Hospital in east London trade unionists and health campaigners came down to a “Breakfast for the NHS” to support health workers and hand in workplace collections.

Ambulance workers were out in force at the hospital. One said, “The overwhelming feeling today is the resolve to take back our NHS. We need an escalation of the action to do that.”

Bolton had four huge picket lines, with 400 bacon butties and 250 cups of tea and coffee consumed. 

Unison NEC member Karen Reissmann (pc) said, “The picket lines were fantastic and very political—mine had over 100 on it by 10am.”

The strike was about pay—but strikers have other concerns too.

Portsmouth midwife Gill Allen said, “We are striking because we want better care for mothers and babies.”

Whittington Hospital Unison rep Wendy added, “It’s about working conditions too. We’re having to work longer hours with bigger workloads—then there’s the targets.”

RCM members were well represented on picket lines. UCH RCM steward Anna White told Socialist Worker, “I’ve been qualified for five years and my pay has gone down in real terms.

“We’re also paying more on our pensions now. We didn’t put up a fight then and we have to now.”

Unison, Unite and GMB members are taking action short of strike for the rest of the week by taking their proper breaks.

Unison is talking about another four-hour strike in November and is balloting its health members in Wales.

Janet Maiden, a member of Unison’s health executive (pc), said, “We need to keep on taking action. I think the next step has to be at least a 24-hour strike.”

Desperate bosses turn to the military

The Tories and NHS bosses were rattled in the run up to last Monday’s health walk out.

They were particularly worried that action by ambulance workers would lead to massive delays and embarrassing headlines.

Socialist Worker online revealed last Sunday the full extent of their plans to rope in non-striking doctors and nurses to work alongside the police and army drivers. 

Bosses issued frantic appeals for more staff to join their operation.

The London and North West Ambulance services used around 130 military personnel during the four-hour walkout.

In London, the Metropolitan Police were given “lower priority calls” that were “passed to ‘double-staffed police’ vehicles” for assessment. 

And five Merseyside Police vehicles were also made available with “first-aid trained staff”. 

Jason Killen, the London Ambulance Service director of operations, admitted that he was “expecting a significant number of our staff to take four hours of strike action”. 

And the strength of picket lines showed that they had everything to be worried about.

Midwife—‘We won’t give in’

RCM member Omotolani
RCM member Omotolani (Pic: Guy Smallman)

“It’s exciting being on strike,” she told Socialist Worker.

“We have to make our voice heard. I love my job—it’s very rewarding. But our workloads are going up and our pay isn’t. 

“At the end of the day we have families to feed.”

Omotolani said she was “angry and appalled” that the Tories have refused to give health workers a pay rise. “We’re only asking for 1 percent,” she said.

“How can they say there’s no money when there’s always money for war? 

“I would support more strikes if they don’t listen to us. We will not give in.”


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