‘BRITAIN needs a pay rise!’ These were the cynical words of PM Cameron last Friday in Washington, after five years of remorseless wage-cutting in the UK under the Tory-led coalition regime.
US journalists laughed at his cynicism and some of them pointed out afterwards that we are living in a situation on both sides of the Atlantic where companies have got used to a situation called ‘profits without prosperity’.
This is a situation where smaller and smaller proportions of escalating corporate earnings on both sides of the Atlantic are finding their way into wage packets and workforce investment. Instead this financial growth is going towards share buy-backs and dividends, boosting executive rewards.
Now back home in the UK, Cameron is singing the old Tory tune, winning plaudits from big business for holding pay down, reducing benefits costs and continuing to be silent on the Living Wage.
This was re-emphasised yesterday when Health Secretary Hunt told the NHS trade union leaders that they must stop the NHS and ambulance workers’ strike on the 29th January. The strikers are demanding that a 1% pay ‘rise’ be paid to all NHS workers and are part of a 24-hour strike in the NHS in England.
One per cent for all is hardly a revolutionary demand, but for the Tory-led coalition it is absolutely unacceptable.
The Secretary of State insists that paramedics will be putting patients’ lives at risk if they push ahead with plans to strike for 12 hours on the 29th, despite the fact that the ambulance workers will be providing full emergency cover for the hours of the strike.
NHS England has warned that the strikes could ‘pose a real risk that patients with life-threatening conditions are harmed’, says Hunt.
The trade unions met Hunt on Tuesday and they resumed their meeting yesterday after the press had made public his demands.
In his letter to the unions organising the strike action, Hunt wrote: ‘The increases demanded by the unions, the £450 million pay award on top of increments, would pay for 14,000 newly qualified nurses.
‘At a time when the NHS is under unprecedented pressure, it would be totally wrong to consider any pay policy which would have the effect of forcing the local NHS to employ less staff, which would inevitably have a serious impact on patient care.
‘I am seriously concerned that the proposed escalation has the potential to affect patient safety to an unacceptable level, especially at a time of intense winter pressures on the service.’
Hunt said that he had received a letter yesterday from NHS England ‘advising me of their concerns that your current plans will pose a real risk that patients with life-threatening conditions are harmed’.
Hunt added: ‘We will do everything possible to keep vulnerable patients safe but we need unions to give proper assurances they will do the same – or better still call the strike off.’
The Health Secretary is trying to wave a big stick, to prepare the way for an election manifesto pledge to ban strikes being held unless 50 per cent of the workforce takes part in the ballot, and to ban all strikes in the emergency services.
The unions must continue with their strike action for a 1% pay rise for all NHS workers. They must not agree to stop the strike or that the ambulance workers will not come out!
No doubt Hunt will use troops and police and may seek legal action through the courts to stop the action on the basis that it is putting life at risk and is another form of terrorism!
Everybody knows that a one per cent pay rise is no rise at all! But Hunt and Cameron, despite his words in Washington, will not allow even that scale of ‘rise’.
The trade unions must stand fast and fight this attempt at a Tory dictatorship, whatever legal and other measures are threatened.
They must tell the Tory leadership to go to hell and demand that the TUC convenes an immediate meeting of the TUC general council.
The TUC must bring out all trade unions on the 29th, and, if any measures are taken against the NHS trade unions, turn the action into an indefinite general strike. This is the only way forward. Otherwise it is back to the Combination Laws and the Poor House!