by Sophie Williams
(Midwives’ picket line at North Manchester General Hospital – photo by Sam O’Brien)
Yesterday saw the first national NHS pay strike for 32 years, and the first strike in the 133 year history of the Royal College of Midwives.
Picket lines were upbeat and received a lot of support from passers-by. In Harrow, bus drivers hooted the hospital picket line while BBC Cambridgeshire radio reported that “basically 100% of their callers had been supportive” and pleaded for anti-strike listeners to phone in to “balance” the programme.
The levels of support are a testament to how much the NHS means to much to ordinary people. We know that the NHS needs to be properly funded. And we know it needs staff who are motivated and fairly paid.
The NHS Pay Review Body recommended that wages of all NHS staff be raised by 1%. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt refused. Yesterday he would have to sack 14,000 nurses if he accepted the recommended pay rise.
Yet MPs were happy to award themselves an 11% pay rise earlier this year. “Disgusting – the rich looking after the rich,” was how one nurse described it.
Although the strike was fun, for many today’s action was not enough. The picket lines were lively enough, but by 11am they had stopped. It is hard to make an impact when the action is so short.
Health workers are continuing their action this week. RCM, Unison and Unite are taking action short of strike for the rest of the week. This sounds impressive, but has left workers uncertain as to what this means.
One nurse wrote: “The reason we don’t take breaks is because we’re understaffed. If you leave your ward without enough members of staff you put nurses and other team members at risk”.
While health workers want to protect their wages and the services they provide, they also need support from their union to make their action as effective as it can be.
Kevin Maguire wrote in yesterday’s Daily Mirror: “Government ministers praising nurses as angels doesn’t pay the bills.” It’s true: you can’t work people into the ground and then just give them a pat on the back. But nurses in the NHS have also faced great criticism, and are often blamed for the fallout from the coalition’s disastrous NHS restructuring.
The NHS is the issue that could sink the Conservatives. It rates higher than immigration on voters’ lists of concerns. UKIP knows this, which is why it is trying to blame immigrants for running down the service.
The Docs Not Cops initiative hopes to counter this racist poison by setting out the facts about immigration and the NHS and campaigning against laws that force health workers to police immigration status.
Ed Miliband should come out in support of NHS workers and in support of a free and accessible NHS that doesn’t waste resources on competition and PFI. Health workers are taking a lead with our coordinated action. We are going to make the NHS the defining issue of the general election. We want to kick out this government and undo the damage they have done to the service
Picketline reports from round the country
Some 50 strikers joined the picket line at Leicester Royal Infirmary – a mixture of Unison, RCM and Unite. There was a great atmosphere despite pouring rain. Everyone agreed this has to be the start of a major campaign. There was a great response from passing public. Kevin F, Leicester
Around 35 health workers and supporters braved the weather from 7am on the picket line at Whipps Cross Hospital in east London. Unison, Unite and the GMB unions were represented. Many members of the public showed their support by sounding their horns as they drove past. James B, London
St Thomas’s picket line in central London had around 50 people on it. Strikers were in high spirits and the chanting was almost continuous. There were speeches from nurses, midwives and union officials (including Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey).
There was a brilliant response from people walking and driving by. Many people came and brought us tea, cake and chocolate. The strike ended with an incredible march across Westminster Bridge to Parliament Square and back. Emma R, London
RCM midwives, Unison and Unite workers marched up and down Oxford Road, Manchester, from 7am this morning. Richard L, Manchester
Northwick Park in west London had 20 people out on the picket line, with 12 RCM midwives on their first ever strike. Unite and Unison members were there as well. Spirits were high with lots of support from the passing traffic. Sophie W, London
There was an enthusiastic picket at the East Oxford Health Centre with Unison, Unite and… cakes! Dan F, Oxford