The health unions are carrying out their second round of membership votes on the 2021 NHS pay award of 3%. GMB is holding a formal industrial action ballot which closes on 15 December, Unison’s second informal consultation closes on 5 December, and the RCN’s on 30 November.
Across the unions the proportions of members voting in the first rounds were not high enough to meet the legal threshold for industrial action, and so the main objective of the current ballots is to increase the turnout. In some areas the campaign has had more energy this time, and in these last weeks activists should continue to push the ballots, by organising workplace walkabouts and phone banking.
The unions as a whole are still failing to organise effectively. We will not turn around creaking union structures generally engaged in servicing members and “partnership working” will not happen without much more determined and co-ordinated rank and file activism and increased membership involvement than we yet have.
Pandemic conditions are still having a massive impact on healthworkers. Workload and patient safety are at the forefront in the workplace. Organisation on these issues, such as that seen among the midwifery protests on the weekend 20-21 November, is often outside the trade unions. In Unison there is a battle over union democracy and control, with the established union officials resisting the newly-elected left majority of the National Executive. These issues must be bought together with the pay campaign to rebuild fighting unions.
Also in Unison, ballot papers are scheduled to go out to Unison members in early December for a formal vote on strikes to win better than the 1.75% pay offer. The ballot will run from 1 December to 14 January.