The major front in the war for the NHS over the coming months may be health workers’ fight for a decent pay rise (more accurately, a significant restoration of losses from real-terms pay cuts). Some time in the second half of June the government’s stitched-up NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) will respond to the Tories’ proposal of a 1% increase, i.e. another pay cut. Then, in turn, the government will say whether it will pay the PRB recommendation or not.
The Labour Party’s failure to commit to rank-and-file NHS workers’ demand of 15% or £3,000, whichever is higher — or to anything like it: the Labour leadership has suggested 2.1% — is disgraceful. It says something about the party’s seriousness about properly funding the health service. The cost of 15%-or-£3k for the entire NHS workforce is about £5bn.
A big pay rise is needed for the morale of health workers and their ability to provide decent services; for retention and recruitment of staff in an NHS which has an exhausted and demoralised workforce, with 100,000 vacancies and rising fast; for making a better-paid workforce less appealing to private contractors; and for workers’ organised strength to defend and bolster the health service in battles to come.
We should draw inspiration from France where, after big strikes and protests by health workers last year, the (very right-wing) Macron government conceded €8bn (£7.2bn) to increase workers’ salaries, alongside many billions in other health spending.
The UK health union leaderships’ failure to push hard on pay — symbolised by “fighting” union Unite’s effectively suggesting its members accept the 4% offer in Scotland — is also a serious problem. We support NHS workers’ initiatives to organise independently of the union leaderships and are promoting discussion about how the pay campaign can win. It will take well-organised, sustained strike action.
Everyone who values the NHS should rally round the health workers’ campaigns. Every trade union and Labour member should organise and fight in their organisations for unambiguous and active solidarity. Unprecedented as it it is in recent years, we should discuss the possibilities for solidarity strikes in support of the NHS workers.
The first step is to work for the biggest possible turnout at the workers’ protests across the country on 3 July, the birthday of the NHS.
• Check out action in your area on 3 July here. London protests include 11am at St Thomas’s Hospital (Westminster Bridge), 2pm at Lewisham Hospital, noon at Ealing Hospital, and 1pm at St Pancras Gardens.