Trade unions must take action for 15% – demand NHS staff

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The front of Saturday’s 1,000-strong demonstration of NHS workers demanding 15% pay rise

‘WHAT DO we want? 15%! When do we want it? Now!’ rang out on the Nurses March through London on Saturday afternoon.

More than 1,000 nurses and their supporters marched from BBC Broadcasting House in Portland Place to Trafalgar Square, where they heard speeches demanding trade union action to achieve their pay rise.

Nurses and other frontline NHS staff are furious that the Tory government excluded them from this year’s public sector pay rise.

Nurse and Unison member Susan Rogers, told News Line before the start of Saturday’s rally: ‘They clapped us every Thursday, week after week, and then they slapped us in the face in July.

‘How dare they say they support us and then do this to us!

‘I’ve got friends who can’t even afford to buy shoes for their children for the new school term.

‘We want all the trade unions to take responsibility for getting us our pay rise.

‘They should strike for nurses’ and other health workers’ pay.’

Placards at the rally included: ‘Stop clapping – Start paying! Nurses are for life, not just for Pandemics! Nurses Lives Matter! NHS Hero but my purse says Zero!

A big banner read: ‘640 Healthcare Workers Died – Blood on Their Hands!’

The News Line and Workers Revolutionary Party banner stated: ‘All Unions must strike to support the Nurses! Kick this government Out!’, with a delegation marching behind it chanting: ‘TUC Get off your knees, Call a General Strike! What do we want? Pay Rise! How do we get it? Strike! Nurses must not fight alone – Call a General Strike! No cuts, no closures – Kick this government out! No Privatisation – Defend the NHS!’

The West London Council of Action banner read: ‘Defend the NHS! Keep Ealing Hospital Open! Occupy to stop all Closures!’

Speaking to the rally outside BBC Broadcasting House before the start of the march, Len Hockey, porter and Unite Branch Secretary at Whipps Cross Hospital, said: ‘On Tuesday this week the Unite London Region Health Committee agreed to fight for 15% and on Thursday the NEC (National Executive Committee) agreed that.

‘We need to join together and develop a mighty trade union movement to achieve it.’

Rachel Lubey, RCN (Royal College of Nursing) East London Foundation Trust, told the rally: ‘I’ve learnt there are over 100,000 vacancies across the NHS.

‘It is routine for a 12-hour shift to stretch to 15 hours without a break.

‘Lack of treatment significantly contributes to risk of harm. Lives are at risk through lack of staff. Many of us are at breaking point.

‘Many will argue that increasing pay won’t address the underlying problems. Our patients will benefit from our pay rise even more than we will.’

Speaking to News Line ahead of the march, Patience Makuyana, RCN member at Royal Brompton Hospital, said: ‘They are planning to close down Paediatrics at Brompton. We’ve been fighting it for six years.

‘Closure would be so harmful, children would die waiting for a chance to have their operation.

‘I’ve worked there for 14 years and we’ve been full all the time. We would be prepared to occupy to stop the closure. We believe in it so strongly

‘The trade unions should get a lot more involved in this fight for our pay increase. They are going to have to take action to achieve it.’

Veronica Jjinga, student nurse at UCLH (University College London Hospital) told News Line: ‘I’m in my second year, with no bursary. I have to pay £9,250 a year.

‘We have to pay tuition and then you are given a maintenance loan which you have to pay back as well.

‘It should be cancelled. As a graduate I’m going to be over £60,000 in debt.

‘The trade union leaders should back our campaign for a pay rise.

‘We need leaders who are fighting for the pay rise at the top of our unions and leaders who fight for the restoration of the bursary.

‘Student nurses who were deployed for Covid, in the red zone, in ITU (intensive treatment units), to support the nurses, are not being paid.

‘I came into nursing to care for people, but if the carers are not cared for themselves, it’s terrible.

‘We are saving lives while the NHS itself is being destroyed. There has to be a change, end austerity and the cut-backs, kick this government out!’

At the rally at the end of the march in Trafalgar Square, Barts Hospital medical student Liam Miller said: ‘There are so many heartbreaking stories about NHS staff sacrificing their lives.

‘The NHS is the most important thing, but it’s under threat and the last few months have exacerbated the crisis.

‘It’s not sustainable and puts lives at risk. This government is imposing deeper and deeper cuts.

‘We’ve seen a pay cut of 20% since 2010. We need 15% and we need it now!’

Psychotherapist Alia Butt, Chair of NHS Staff Voices, said: ‘Austerity and privatisation has ripped the NHS apart.

‘We have to organise. The government has shown itself to be incredibly cruel. There have been 5,549 deaths on trolleys.

‘They died waiting to see a doctor because of austerity and cuts year after year. There’s a huge drive to dismantle the NHS systematically.

‘Let’s not kid ourselves, in 2012 the Health and Social Care Act was introduced, to split the NHS into 40 different trusts which are run by people who don’t know what they are doing. It’s an absolute mess.

‘Matt Hancock says we’ll be testing 10 million people a day by Xmas. What fantasy world is he living in?

‘They say there’s not enough money for the NHS. Lies!

‘We’ve seen hundreds of millions for eating out in restaurants. Two billion for Trident. We’ve got nurses sleeping on the streets. It’s appalling.’

Matt Smith, RCN rep and paediatric nurse at Royal Brompton Hospital, said: ‘Too many of our colleagues have died due to the incompetence of Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock.

‘We’ve had a farcical response from government, defending senior officials who have broken the very measures that they are imposing.

‘Hancock is lurching from one disastrous decision to another.’

At the end of the rally Tina Obaje, RCN UCLH, told News Line: ‘We have to fight for our pay rise.

‘The RCN is strong. Now is the time for action from the whole trade union movement.

‘It’s not enough for people to say they believe in the NHS and leave it at that.

‘There has to be action for our pay and it’s got to be organised now. Enough is enough.’

RCN member Alice Gapu said: ‘All the other unions should strike for a pay rise for everyone in the NHS, not just for the nurses but for cleaners and all the ancillary staff.

‘Where we work there are so many infectious diseases and that’s where infections start.

‘So the support staff have to be absolutely professional and they are, but they must be paid accordingly.

‘The trade unions must call action now to get our pay rise.’