IN A historic first, nurses in the RCN union, pushed to breaking point, have joined the strike wave against the cost of living crisis. And despite media attempts to probe for public disapproval, they have massive support. A million patients are treated in the NHS every 36 minutes, and they are overwhelmingly grateful to and supportive of its hard-working staff.
Years of falling real-terms pay (by over 20% since 2010), understaffed and chaotic wards that run only on overtime, and the relentless pressure of covid and flu winter epidemics have seen many nurses overcome personal fears for their patients to reach the point of striking. Far from hurting patients as the media claims, industrial action seems to many like the only way not just to raise pay but attract more staff—there are over 132,000 vacancies—and save the NHS.
In more firsts, joining them in the fight against plummeting pay are the ambulance drivers in the GMB, Unison and Unite, and now physiotherapists, midwives and radiographers. The BMA ballot of 45,000 junior doctors over an insulting 2% pay rise this year is likely to see a yes vote for action, with more joining the fight for pay and funding with a 72 hour walkout planned for March. The 6th February saw the biggest NHS strike yet with nurses, ambulance and other workers out.
Organise the rank and file
Workers need to demand unity, coordination, and escalating action. GMB and Unison ambulance workers strike separately; the RCN brings different sections of nurses out on different days, and in Scotland and Wales the unions have suspended strikes for talks with the devolved governments.
Rank and file meetings to set up delegate committees within and between hospitals and trusts are key to winning the strikes. These can strengthen resolve, support those still balloting, and press for more action as steps towards controlling the dispute.