MORE THAN 10,000 nurses, other NHS workers, trade unionists and supporters marched from St James’s Park to Parliament Square on Saturday on a demonstration called by the NHS Workers say No to Pay Inequality group.
It was part of a nationwide protest where thousands of nurses demonstrated all over the country, including 2,000 in Liverpool and Cardiff alone.
As the London march was assembling RCN members Will White, the group’s Treasurer and Becky Pratchett, its Admin and Social Media officer, said: ‘Ness Woodcock-Dennis started the group and it has mushroomed in just a matter of weeks.
‘There’s such strong feeling over putting our lives at risk for the last five months and no recognition, asking us to work extra hours and taxing us more.
‘They cut the bursary, leading to less nurses and now in this crisis we’re understaffed. We’re glad all other public sector workers got a pay rise last month, but excluding NHS workers was the last straw.
‘This movement has enormous momentum, there’s no way it’s going to dissipate, we will achieve our aims.’
Rob Nesta, RCN, St George’s Hospital, Tooting, said: ‘I remember marching with my parents in the 1980s for the miners and today the other trade unions should fight for us.
‘It’s telling that what Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed last month was a “generous pay rise for NHS staff” had actually led to the RCN board being forced to resign by the membership.
‘There was a vote amongst the members to condemn the deal which they had agreed and this movement today is an extension of that. Nurses are not going to put up with it anymore.’
Carrying a banner saying ‘Overworked Underpaid’, University College Hospital nurses and RCN members Kelly Stevenson and Melissa Stephens said: ‘We’ve got no staff, no PPE and we don’t get paid enough for what we do. We should be supported like we supported the nation during lockdown. The rest of the trade union movement should strike for the NHS.’
Kathryn Wicks, RCN Herts Community Trust, said: ‘It’s so unfair. All other public sector workers are recognised for their hard work but we’re excluded. We should all be one. The whole trade union movement should fight for us. That’s what the NHS means – No-one left behind.’
Megan, a nurse at St Thomas’s Hospital and member of both Unison and the RCN, said: ‘There are too many words to explain how I really feel to be honest. I wanted to say something important. Personally I’m hurting. I’m really sad and I’m angry. There has to be strike action. If the French have done it, then we can do it. We need to all of us join together. Unite all professions and all workers in fighting for the NHS.’
Tracy Kent, Nurse and Unison member at Princess Royal Hospital, Orpington, said: ‘It’s time to start standing together now and get justice for the nurses – the right pay for nurses. Without the nurses there wouldn’t be an NHS. We’re constantly working, understaffed, underpaid and we have to pay for parking. The TUC should call a general strike to support our pay claim.’
Emily, an RCN nurse at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, said: ‘We deserve a pay rise. Nurses, cleaning and catering staff are really struggling. It shows the Thursday claps were really hollow.’
There were loads of angry and witty placards on the march, including:
‘Pay What I’m Worth – Pounds not Platitudes!’
‘MPs received £2,500 a month increase for being public sector. Are we not public sector?’
‘In April 2020, MPs wages hit a record high of £81,932 while they clapped for the NHS.’
‘Herts NHS workers say No! What is our vital contribution worth?’
‘The Lions are at the Door – We ain’t taking orders from Snakes no More!’
‘Blood, Sweat, Tears, Fears – All we get is Cheers.’
‘Dearest Boris, Fuck You. Sincerely, NHS.’
‘Government Treats NHS Very UnsatisfacTORY!’
‘We Can’t Pay Bills with Applause!’
‘Deceived by the Tories – Don’t believe their stories.’
‘The NHS betrayed – Workers chronically underpaid!’
‘Boris, are you a catheter? Cos you’re taking the piss!’
‘540 of my colleagues can’t be here – they died because they went to work. Tell me again how much we are worth.’
‘The car park machine at work doesn’t take claps!’
‘NHS Hero but my Purse still says Zero.’
‘You Curse the Purse of the Nurse – we saved you from the Hearse.’
‘NHS staff are dying for fair pay.’
Buses hooted in support as the march proceeded down Whitehall, chanting: ‘How much do we want? 15% How do we get it? Strike! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – Keep our NHS Alive! and What Do We Want? – Pay Rise! How Do We Get It? Strike!’
There were many banners, including from University College Hospital Unison, London Fire Brigade Unison, University College Hospital and the West London Council of Action banner saying: ‘Defend the NHS, Save Ealing Hospital, Occupy to stop all Closures!’
The News Line WRP banner said: ‘All Unions must strike to support Nurses! Kick the government out! and a lively delegation behind it chanted: ‘Support the Nurses – Kick out Johnson! Stop Pleading with the Tories – All Unions must Strike! No NHS Privatisation – Kick this government Out! and Support the Nurses – Sack the government!’
At the rally in Parliament Square at the end of the march, NHS Workers say No to Pay Inequality group founder Ness Woodcock-Dennis said: ‘This is an issue about the abuse of power. We have to advocate for the vulnerable.
‘I, as a tutor, have seen student debt increase dramatically. Why would anyone want to train as a nurse given the impoverishment? They are not valued by the government.
‘As a nurse I fought for my patients every single shift and as a nurse tutor I have to fight for my students. But I have got to the point where I can’t do my job. We have a government that doesn’t believe in the NHS. We’ve lost 20% of our pay in real terms since 2010, NHS workers say No!’
Ness then introduced other speakers.
Bianca Morris, Play Therapist for Children with Disabilities, said: ‘I’ve given 20 years to the NHS, but today, enough is enough. My loyalty, passion, professionalism, has been used against me. No more! My clients come from all socio-economic backgrounds and I have never felt so alone. Respite care has been cancelled and so children regressed. Others have been recognised for their Covid work, why not us? Today it stops, today we fight together.’
Francis Dwum, GMB rep and cleaner at St George’s Hospital, Tooting, said: ‘If they respected us they would pay us properly. The pay is so low we have to do loads of overtime. No ifs, no buts, 15% pay rise now!’
Naomi Byron, joint branch secretary of of workers employed by privateer ISS at Homerton Hospital, said: ‘In most places we are treated as second class citizens. Profit should have no place in healthcare. At Homerton over half the staff get no sick pay. In a hospital this is really dangerous. But we have just won proper sick pay for all staff from October. We are proud to march with you to demand fair pay.’
Registered Mental Nurse, Kayleigh Manning, said: ‘I’m so proud to have joined the NHS, but we are owed the right to safe working conditions and a decent pay rise. 10 years of Tory rule have seen cuts, cuts, cuts and have led to 15 hour days with skeleton staff.’
Helen O’Connor, GMB, said: ‘Today’s NHS protests across the country are a warning. We will stop the sale of the NHS to American companies. Decades of cuts and privatisation have made the coronavirus crisis worse. The goodwill of NHS staff has been stretched to the limit. The GMB union is backing the battle for pay justice in the NHS.’
BMA member Anna Athow, a retired doctor, said: ‘The nurses are the NHS. Nurses, doctors, paramedics, porters, all NHS workers and carers make the NHS what it is today.
‘This government has totally mismanaged this pandemic. They didn’t close the borders. They let the virus spread into the population, into the hospitals, and into the care homes.
‘Over 500 healthcare workers have died from Covid-19, because of the disgraceful lack of testing and PPE.
‘Nurses gave their all, gave over and above – only to be greeted with a slap in the face – No pay rise, no return of bursaries and the prospect of a second Covid wave this winter.
‘This government must go! They’ll never own up to what they have done!
‘They’ve used this pandemic to massively cut all NHS services; cancer care, diagnostics, essential surgery, outpatients, emergency care and GP care.
‘They’re giving more billions to private sector hospitals, and destroying the NHS as a public service. No one can live without the NHS.
‘The nurses and all NHS workers desperately need a pay rise. All unions must come out in support.
‘In 1926 they cut the miners’ pay, and the whole working class came out on a general strike.
‘That is what we need now, – a general strike to support the nurses. Defend our NHS, and bring down this government!’