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NHS strike bulletin: escalate the pay fight to win

Bulletin for the NHS pay strike 24 November 2014

Click here to read as pdf

by a Unite health member

Nine NHS unions and staff associations including midwives and nurses are striking together today for a one-percent pay rise, from 7-11 AM before a week of working-to-rule. The Con-Dem coalition is determined to continue to push cuts and privatise the NHS as part of making workers pay for the crisis and bank bailout, and open up public services for profit. The health workers’ pay strike is part of building the resistance to NHS privatisation, eeryone should support them.

Today’s strike is a protest at years of below-inflation pay rises and now a pay freeze which add up to a 15 percent cut in the real wages of NHS workers. A Department of Health spokesperson said they could not afford this measly one percent pay rise “without risking front-line jobs” – if they raised taxes on the rich instead of cutting them they could.  In reality the pay freeze is just the last straw for workers who face job cuts, skyrocketing workloads, privatisation, and a non-stop offensive by government ministers and the media attacking the NHS.

Strike to save the NHS

Every NHS user – i.e. everyone who is in the 99% as opposed to the 1%! – should support this strike. The cuts to staff and services, the rising waiting lists and A&E times, the accelerating transfer of hospital functions and medical services to the private sector through outsourcing, all show the immense damage that the Con-Dem Health Act is doing to our health service. That damage will be fatal unless we create a mass revolt to halt and reverse it –and strikes by the health workers themselves are a crucial part of building such a movement. An NHS with a confident unionised workforce is also a much less attractive prospect for private health companies to bid for. So this dispute has bigger impact than just pay – its part of the fight for the future of the health service.

The Tories hope the strikes die out so they can get on with privatising the NHS. Sadly, despite our unions funding Labour, Miliband & Co are silent, also hoping the dispute doesn’t escalate and embarrass them before the general election.  But Labour won’t save the NHS, they won’t reverse the years of pay freezes and under-funding.

Escalate the fight

Health workers are under no illusion that this will be an easy battle but there is a willingness to take the fight to the Government.

Today’s action is only four hours again, and comes six weeks after the first four hour strike on 13 October, which saw solid, lively picket lines in Leeds at the LGI and St James, and around the country. That’s a start but not nearly enough to force the Tories to back down. The call from some branches to escalate the next action to a 24 hour strike is one every worker should back, but even one day strikes followed by a work-to-rule aren’t enough. Escalating the action – two days out, three days, four days, all out if necessary – would put huge pressure on the government and release an outpouring of support from the rest of the trade union movement and the public, if it was combined with demonstrations to save the NHS. The unions have the resources to do this, why haven’t our leaders launched such a movement yet?

Meanwhile the danger of a sell-out is clear.  In Wales Unison tops have convinced staff to settle for less (to take the pressure off the Labour Welsh government). Meanwhile in the related local government pay dispute, the big three (UNITE, Unison, GMB) have let the government off the hook, stitching up a deal only a fraction better than what workers had voted to reject. This has blocked the road to coordinated action across the public sector over pay, in order to avoid embarrassing Ed Miliband in the run up to 2015.

Rank and File control

Health workers in all the unions need to get organised to decide what form of action they need to take, and force their union leaders to deliver or go forward without them.  Cross union mass meetings and elected strike committees could begin to build the scaffolding for rank and file control of the strike, to organise the most effective action and block a local-government style sell out. Reps and activists could take a leaf out of the electricians and teachers disputes in the last couple of years and call an emergency, unofficial meeting to set up a grassroots network to push for, and organise, further action and a strategy to win.

Workers action and a mass campaign to save the NHS based on the users, unions, patients groups, not Labour politicians, will save the NHS, and could lay the basis for a new mass party of the working class, committed to resolving the intractable crisis capitalism finds itself by the revolutionary struggle for socialism.

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