By Judith Orr
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Strike to save the NHS – workers’ walkout could turn the tide against Tories

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Issue 2399

Health workers in the Unison union have voted overwhelmingly for a ballot to strike over pay as Socialist Worker went to press. 

Delegate after delegate at their national conference spoke out about feeling under siege with attacks on pay, working conditions and cuts to the NHS.

Mark, a single parent and delegate from Devon, won a standing ovation when he spoke about having to use payday loan company Wonga to feed his kids, “I can’t afford to go on strike but I will strike,” he said. 

“They have forced us to our knees and still want more. Enough is enough.” 

Tory health minister Jeremy Hunt refused to pay a promised rise to all nurses earlier this month. And a recent poll showed that nearly 85 percent of student nurses have to take on extra jobs in bars and supermarkets to survive even with long hours of training. 


A new Unison report on one typical day in the NHS (see below) exposes the impact of Tory cuts on the ability of nurses to give patients the care they need. 

As many as 59 percent of those who responded said there was not enough staff to deliver “safe, dignified and compassionate care.”

Andy, a nursing assistant in London, explained to Socialist Worker how frustrated health workers are about this latest insult. “It’s the final straw. We work compulsory 12 and half hour shifts. We are underpaid and overworked in understaffed wards.”

He added, “I want the union leadership to tell the government that enough is enough. We need a decent pay rise.”

The promised pay rise was only 1 percent but it was denied to more than half of all health workers. Those workers who receive incremental wages which rise as they gain skills and experience received nothing.

Tory chancellor George Osborne made much of a slight fall in inflation this week using the government’s preferred measure of inflation the Consumer Prices Index (CPI). He wants to argue that pay is catching up with prices.


The CPI is usually lower than the Retail Price Index which is currently running at 2.5 percent—more than double the nurses’ paltry rise. Everyone is feeling the pinch of low pay, and there is the potential for a real fight that can knock back the government’s plans. 

“People are angry. Maria Miller stole £39,000 and was let off. That’s loads more than most of us get for a whole year caring for patients,” said Karen Reissman, nurse and Unison national executive member. 

She said that there is a myth that the public won’t support health workers, “Yet every time we hold a stall in the town centre people queue to sign a petition in our support.

“We need to go back from conference, call meetings and talk to members,” argued Karen. “We need to organise joint pay rallies across the country with other workers. The government is falling out with each other. They are not confident. We can win this.”

Every day in the NHS…

Nearly half of staff are looking after eight or more patients Research shows this is too many and could lead to harm. Night shifts are even worse

The majority of workers did unpaid overtime One in ten did over an hour, and only 40 percent were able to take all their breaks

65 percent of workers didn’t have enough time with each patient and more than half said care was left undone as a result

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