IF THE Tories hoped that the last minute scramble to head off the anger of NHS workers by increasing the derisory and insulting 1% pay offer to 3% on Wednesday evening, then they badly underestimated the determination of health workers to smash the government wage-cutting offensive.
This announcement was met with fury by the health sector unions, reflecting the pressure from the membership not to be bought off by a paltry 3%.
The GMB union revealed that its research shows that NHS workers in England have lost up to £9,000 a year during a decade of Tory austerity, including nurses over £6,000, midwives more than £7,500 and low-paid hospital cleaners having wage cuts of over £1,000 in real terms.
Apart from not making up any of the wages lost through years of wage freezes, the latest 3% increase has already been wiped out by the sharp increase in inflation to 3.7%.
Pat Cullen, acting general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said this meant: ‘Ministers are knowingly cutting pay for an experienced nurse by over £200 in real terms.’
She warned that nurses in England could strike for the first time, saying: ‘The profession will not take this lying down. We will be consulting our members on what action they would like us to take.’
She added: ‘And once we have their view – which we suspect will be to say they are unhappy about the level – we will then be considering with them what the next steps might be, which could include consideration of industrial action most certainly.’
The RCN has already set aside a fighting fund of £35 million for strike action as well as training up to 25,000 nurses to become activists in the fight for a 12.5% pay rise, which the RCN insists is an absolute necessity to make up for past wage cuts and the massive nursing shortages.
Nurses in England have been inspired by strike action by RCN members in the north of Ireland in late 2019 and early 2020 over unsafe staffing levels and unequal pay.
This strike, the first strike by the RCN since its foundation in 1916, won massive support from the public, forcing the Stormont Assembly to capitulate to their demands.
The GMB is also consulting its members, recommending they reject this paltry offer with Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary, saying: ‘Ministers need to think again.’
The Unite union, with 100,000 members in the health service, stated that it would also be consulting with the membership ‘as to the next steps, which will include a consultative ballot on industrial action’.
Unite has a long-standing policy for an immediate pay rise of £3,000-a-year or 15 per cent, whichever is greater.
Labour Party shadow health minster Justin Madders described the 3% offer as a ‘U-turn’ by the Tories and called for them to make NHS workers ‘feel supported and valued’ by the government.
He omitted to mention the fact that it is a wage cut on top of all the wage cuts inflicted not just on NHS workers but the entire working class.
Public sector workers, including teaching staff that make up 29% of the government wage bill, are getting nothing except a wage freeze.
Not just public sector workers but the entire working class must stand behind NHS workers, with millions of workers determined not to see the health service destroyed by the Tories in order to pay off the massive national debt run up bailing out the bosses and bankers. The Tories won’t ‘think again’. They must be removed.
The only way to defend the NHS and provide decent pay for every worker is for the entire trade union movement to mobilise in support of the health unions in a general strike to kick out the Tories and go forward to a workers’ government.
A workers’ government will expropriate the bosses and bankers as part of a socialist planned economy and ensure all the finance necessary to fund a national health service that provides decent pay for its workers and the most advanced medical treatment, free at the point of delivery for everyone.
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