Unions must organise ballot for national strike action
On Saturday 12 September, in many towns and cities across England, protests were organised by NHS workers, furious with the Johnson government’s refusal to award them a pay rise. Several Socialist Party members – health workers and others – spoke at the rallies. Below are extracts from a number of these speeches.
Many fellow trade unionists and Socialist Party members assisted in building the protests, unfortunately in the absence of a lead from the national trade unions.
The overwhelming demand among protesters was for a 15% pay rise now (see reports opposite). Socialist party members called for the unions to unite and launch a campaign to mobilise workers to achieve a decent pay rise for all. This must involve campaigning for and winning a national pay ballot for strike action.
They also pointed out that this divided Tory government can be beaten if the unions’ leaderships are willing to organise against it.
‘Mobilise the members for national industrial action’
“I’m attending today’s health workers pay demo in a personal capacity because unfortunately my union, Unison, and other national trade unions, haven’t backed this protest. That’s very disappointing, because all of the unions should now be mobilising their members on demos like this and at hospitals all around the country, to make sure there is a movement to win this pay claim.
There are a number of discussions about what the rate should be. On the demo today the majority want ‘15% now’.
We’ve seen a number of trade unions submit their particular pay claims. Unison, for example, has submitted a claim for an immediate rise of £2,000 a year – which is not the 15% which people are demanding. Nonetheless, if all the health workers’ unions agree a pay claim, then what is the next step?
Unison’s leadership for example, in submitting its claim, says it is now up to the government to respond.
This passive approach is unacceptable. Rather, it’s what our union members do that’ll force the government to pay up. So we need to mobilise the membership in demos, days of action, and so on, but our health worker branches also need to be preparing for a national strike ballot. I’m certain that such a campaign would beat the anti-union ballot vote threshold and secure a yes vote.
And once they’ve won that and they start to take action, we must demand that the TUC gives full solidarity action, and make sure that’s given throughout the trade union movement.
Most of the unions have seen a rise in membership during this pandemic. Well, we must not just sit on that, but ensure those new members are activated to secure the wages and conditions we urgently need.”
Hugo Pierre, Unison national executive council (personal capacity) and Socialist Party member
‘We can beat this divided government’
“I’d like to bring a message of solidarity from Unite members in Barts health trust, the largest NHS trust in England.
We’ve experienced attacks on pay and conditions, resulting from privatisation, over a number of years. Indeed, as outsourced workers we’ve had to take strike action on three occasions to win some semblance of parity with members still directly employed by the NHS.
I take part in today’s pay struggle, yes as a trade union activist and as a socialist, as someone who wants to see a fundamentally different economy and society (applause). Not a rigged capitalist system where our NHS has a trustworthy logo behind which lurk parasitic privatised corporations who daily strip the dignity of health workers and erode this service.
I’m pleased to report that the London and Eastern regional Unite health leadership agreed this week to support 15% or a £3,000 increase pay claim. The national Unite health body has endorsed this, but we’ve still got a job of work to do to unite in struggle the 14 trade unions which make up the staff side in the NHS.
Our actions today count. We can build a movement that can transform the mood of workers and take on this weak, divided Tory government. Let’s make them do another U-turn. Let’s build this momentum for change. Let’s unite and force this government to give us our due claim.
Moreover, I also believe it is the historical mission of the trade unions to be part of a movement to transform society along democratic socialist lines.
Solidarity brothers and sisters!”
Len Hockey, secretary, Unite union, Barts NHS Trust
‘Where’s our money tree?’
“I’m Blythe, I work in the NHS and I’m a Socialist Party member.
During this Covid crisis the government has praised “key workers”. Going outside to clap on Thursdays, putting up rainbows…We’ve seen it all
Yet it means nothing when you look at how NHS workers, care workers, and many others have been treated.
This government has cut our real pay over many years. Some workers have lost 20% since 2010. They’ve underfunded the NHS. They’ve continued with the bosses’ privatisation agenda.
And then there’s the betrayal over the nursing bursary
My post-graduate training is fully funded by the NHS. Without it I wouldn’t be able to do my job. So how can the government expect to fill our staffing crisis when they require people to get in tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt that they will be paying off for the rest of their lives – never mind going without pay in order to study?
15% now for all NHS workers is a modest claim. MPs are getting a £10,000 ‘work from home’ bonus, when we got nothing.
We have seen during this crisis the government finding vast sums of money – hundreds of billions of pounds – to keep big business afloat and to protect its own interests. Yet we’re told “there’s no money tree” for wages and services.
Systematic underfunding has led to significant staff and equipment shortages that is putting our NHS under threat.
But the government would rather find a way to make money out of the NHS instead.
You cannot make money from health without putting profit before people. As an NHS worker and a socialist that goes against my fundamental values.
- Reinstate student bursaries and scrap tuition fees!
- 15% pay increase for NHS workers!
- Fully fund our NHS services!
The unions to call mass meetings of staff to prepare and organise this battle!”
A Lincoln NHS worker
NHS protests round-up
Over 200 health workers and supporters marched through the main high street stopping all the traffic.
While the demo was smaller than last time, with fewer health workers – possibly because of the imminent further Covid restrictions – the mood was buoyant. Passers-by cheered us on and happily snapped up the Socialist Party leaflets.
Halfway through the demo it stopped for a minute’s silence for the health workers who had died during the pandemic.
There is increasing demand from the workers for unity across all the unions, not only on the pay claim, but also for a fighting strategy. Noticeably, it was only the GMB trade union which mobilised for the demo, with no presence from other health unions.
There was a steely determination on the London NHS demo. At Oxford Circus, passers-by were hugely supportive of the demand for a 15% pay rise.
Lots of protesters signed the Young Socialists petition demanding the Trades Union Congress (TUC) take action on mass youth unemployment, which is on the horizon. We need the TUC to organise a ‘council of war’ to make sure young people don’t pay for the Covid crisis with their futures.
It sparked lots of discussion about the type of trade union leadership needed to win a 15% pay rise in the NHS, and the struggles facing working-class people.
Civil service union PCS member Nick Parker, and Mel Kerr, Lincolnshire chair of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), worked hard to push the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to build for a city centre protest.
Unfortunately, despite protests being exempt from the ban on gatherings of six or more, the TUC pulled out.
However, the Socialist Party decided we had to make a stand, and made sure the protest went ahead. Safety was a key priority.
Mel Kerr, the RCN rep who spoke at the protest had this to say about the event: “I felt the day went very well, especially considering only 48 hours prior we thought it had been cancelled! So many thanks to Lincolnshire Socialists for pushing this through and making it a success. We had a fantastic number of signatures on the petition… However, for any future events to have the biggest impact possible, we really need to see a bigger turnout… to make the public and government realise how serious we are about our demands”.
Outside Bristol’s City Council building, several NHS workers spoke of their experiences, highlighting how ‘overwhelmed, overworked and exhausted’ they all felt. The protesters then marched through the city centre, attracting large crowds of onlookers who eagerly took Socialist Party leaflets. The general atmosphere was one of anger but also positivity as to what workers can achieve if we all work together.
In the second round of speeches, Socialist Party member Roger Thomas brought solidarity from the Bristol Trades Council, and linked the struggles faced by NHS staff to the broader attacks and austerity forced upon all public sector workers.
He ended by demanding that we “get rid of this rotten Tory government”. This received warm applause.
Unfortunately, with recent announcements by Mayor Joe Anderson, threatening to put Liverpool back into lockdown, the much publicised NHS march was called off. Instead, there was a successful online NHS pay claim rally.
There were great contributions from many inspiring frontline workers and allied health workers. Socialist Party speakers demanded to ‘make our trade unions fight for us’.
We encouraged the attendees to start building the fightback by attending the National Shop Stewards Network lobby of the TUC, demanding that workers don’t pay the price for the crisis.
The boss-friendly Tory government was attacked for refusing health workers their just pay claim.
However, Labour is no real alternative to the Tories. In Liverpool, the austerity-supporting Labour council is threatening the closure of council-funded and privately leased Brushwood and Millvina care homes, following the failure of the private care provider.
Scandalously, the homes were built by the council as a financial investment, not to run them.
Anderson, who opened the homes just a year ago, is refusing to bring the care homes in-house, saying the council can’t afford to because of government cuts.
These closures will leave already vulnerable residents in a very unsettled situation, which could have a detrimental impact on their health. And the overworked and underpaid care workers would be made redundant.
The closures need to be halted immediately, and services brought in-house and run by the local council.