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Arguments for socialism :: Workers
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It's in our pay packets now - the Tory government's miserly 3% 'pay rise' for NHS workers. It is becoming clearer by the day to our fellow NHS staff that this amounts to effectively nothing.
With many having also had pension adjustments, experiencing price rises, and looking at an upcoming National Insurance hike, we all know what a kick in the teeth this is. At the same time, waiting lists are growing and the strain on NHS workers is immense. Anger can only grow.
Even before the effects of tax hikes and price rises really started to sink in, members in the health unions - Unison, RCN and GMB - voted overwhelmingly to reject the 3%, giving a clear indication of willingness for action. And this was in a situation where there was, at best, a lacklustre official campaign from the union leaderships.
At the time of writing, Unite has still to announce its ballot result. But Unite members in Wales have clearly rejected the deal, and there is every expectation that the Unite result will be the same as the others.
It is essential now that the health unions get together to plan a campaign and a timetable for coordinated industrial action ballots to demand a substantial pay rise.
A good start would be for the newly elected left majority on Unison's National Executive Council (NEC) to arrange to meet with the Unite's NEC following the victory of Sharon Graham as Unite general secretary.
Outrageously, as we reported in the Socialist, the right-wing majority in Unison's health service group executive rejected calls from Socialist Party members and others to move to an industrial action ballot, accompanied by a massive campaign. Instead, they are proposing an indicative ballot next, which risks diluting the mood.
Making it up as they went along in order to get the outcome they wanted, they have declared that in the indicative ballot there needs to be a 45% turnout. Then at the Unison health conference, they declared that emergency motions cannot be taken at online conferences, thus ensuring that their decision could not be overturned. Neither of these things are in the rulebook. The recently elected left majority on Unison's NEC cannot let them get away with this.
The Tory anti-trade union laws demand a 50% turnout in an industrial action ballot. That means we have to launch almighty campaigns of workplace meetings, rallies and protests. Leaflets need to go out and discussions take place ward by ward, canteen by canteen, desk by desk.
Whichever union we are in, we must also plan in our workplaces. Can our union branch reach out to the other unions in our hospital? If there are moves by the right-wing locally to block action, workers can come together under the banner of NHS Workers Say No, for example. Can we call a meeting now to prepare a campaign? What about calling pay day protests at the main gate?
Like everyone else in the public sector, NHS workers know 'there's too much month at the end of the money!' But the Tories can be pushed back - look at the fuel crisis they are currently in. We can win, but to do so we have to fight and prepare to strike together.
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Article dated 29 September 2021
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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