THE anger of nurses working in the National Health Service (NHS) at having a pay cut imposed upon them this year, by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown, erupted at the Congress of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Harrogate on Tuesday.
This was the day that the Office of National Statistics published figures revealing a leap in inflation, with the Retail Price Index (RPI) going up by 4.8 per cent in March and the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rising by 3.1 per cent.
This is the situation in which the government is imposing a pay cut on nurses – paying 2.5 per cent when inflation is at least 4.8 per cent!
It has offered nurses 1.5 per cent paid from April 2007 and a further one per cent to be paid in November. The Scottish Executive is paying 2.5 per cent from April 1.
In response to this the RCN Congress voted for a motion from Wales: ‘That this meeting of the RCN Congress demands that the independent pay review body recommendations are implemented in full by all governments from April 1, 2007.’
Another motion put from the floor stated: ‘That this meeting of RCN Congress calls on Council now to invoke Rule 12 of the RCN Charter and Bye-Laws and investigate what form of industrial action would be appropriate in relation to the pay offer.’
In the debate, a delegate from London said: ‘I personally think we should strike and get patients on board.’ One from Glasgow said: ‘Let’s take some sort of industrial action. This (pay offer) is totally unacceptable.’
Both propositions were carried emphatically. The first motion was passed by 97.97 per cent of the delegates and the second by 97.25 per cent.
This is the first time ever that the RCN has backed industrial action since it was founded in 1916.
Later this week, from April 22-24, the UNISON Health Conference takes place in Brighton. Pay will be the most pressing issue debated at this meeting of the other major nurses’ union.
Both RCN and UNISON members know that the derisory pay award from the government is part and parcel of its onslaught on the NHS.
Earlier this week, the RCN revealed that more than 22,000 posts have been axed over the past year as the government drives forward its cuts and the ‘re-configuration’ out of existence of up to 60 district general hospitals.
Blair’s and Brown’s government’s imposition of a pay cut on nurses shows the contempt it has for these dedicated NHS staff and the service they provide.
The government shows a similar contempt for all public sector workers. Teachers, civil servants, other NHS staff and local council workers all face pay cuts.
The leadership of the PCS civil servants’ trade union has already decided to organise a one-day national strike on May 1, against job losses and pay cuts.
At Easter, the NUT, largest teachers’ union, voted to ‘prepare to ballot members for a national one-day strike in cooperation with other teachers’ organisations and public sector unions as the first stage of any industrial action which is required to protect the pay of teachers and other public sector workers’.
The political decision by the Blair-Brown government to cut public sector workers’ pay and cut, close, privatise and destroy public services, like the NHS and education, demands industrial and political action by the whole trade union movement to defeat this government.
Nurses and all other public sector workers should organise through their union organisations, at all levels, to join PCS members and take action and demonstrate on May Day.
They must demand that the next meeting of the TUC’s General Council issues a call for the organisation of extended national strike action to support nurses, teachers, civil servants and local council workers in their struggles against pay cuts. These workers must get an above-inflation pay rise, based on the cost of living established independently by the trade unions.
The answer to the political decisions of the Blair-Brown regime to impose pay cuts and destroy essential services, through cuts, closures and privatisation, has to be a general strike to defeat this government.
It must be replaced with a workers’ government, representing the interests of millions of trade unionists and all working people, that will repeal all anti-union laws, defend living standards and restore all state-owned public services.