Back the health workers! 15% pay rise!

Submitted by AWL on 2 September, 2020 - 3:03 Author: Editorial
Health workers' protest

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On 12 September, and in Glasgow on 5 September, health workers will be on the streets again (see here) demanding a pay rise.

The movement started with a London demonstration on 29 July, spread through protests across the country on 8 August and workplace rallies on 26 August, and is continuing through “wear a badge days” every Wednesday.

The driving force here is nurses. They have suffered danger and stress in the pandemic, and before that years of NHS cuts and pay freezes. Even before the pandemic, for years campaigners have warned that hospitals routinely run at 95% capacity in the winter, and just a worse-than-usual flu season could overwhelm them.

Nurses are not the lowest-paid health workers, but their pay is low for their qualifications and conditions.

The French government has awarded pay rises, inadequate but rises, to all hospital workers following the lockdown. Winning on pay can unlock other issues: isolation pay for all workers in the NHS (including casual and contracted-out), in-housing of jobs, better nurse-to-patient ratios.

The protest leaders have explained that they need to budge the health workers’ unions. Unite and GMB officials have given some support, but largely passive; and Unite and GMB have relatively little weight here, especially among nurses. The RCN has demanded a 12.5% rise, but it is a conservative “professional” union which struck for the first time in its history as recently as December 2019 (in Northern Ireland). Unison is the biggest union in the sector, but has submitted a pay claim ( on 28 August) for only £2000 (more like 5% than 15% for an experienced nurse), and is not campaigning.

The current general secretary election in Unison (nominations close 25 Sep, voting 28 Oct to 27 Nov) gives leverage to shift that. The left-wing candidates, Paul Holmes and Hugo Pierre, currently do not mention NHS pay in their platforms, instead stressing local government issues, but they are known to back the protests. If they make a storm on NHS pay, they can apply pressure to the other candidates and so to the Unison official top ranks in which those candidates are already inserted.

The Labour Party, and in the first place left Labour MPs, should also make a storm about NHS pay.

Other workers should consider our own pay claims, and whether we can time industrial action on wages to coincide with NHS pay strikes or protests, thus giving effective solidarity to health workers who may have difficulty staging strikes if hospitals become stretched in a virus-resurgence.

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