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NHS workers demand decent pay - 15% for all now!
NHS workers are furious that they are not being given improved pay increases this year. While they continue to battle against the coronavirus, many are struggling to afford the basics of living.
On Saturday 8 August a national day of action took place - organised at grassroots level - with protests in over 30 towns and cities, calling for a 15% pay increase. The health trade unions must reopen pay talks and union mass meetings are needed to prepare for industrial action.
Hundreds took to the streets of Bristol on Saturday 8 August as part of the national day of action to demand better wages for NHS staff. The protesters held a two-minute silence for those NHS workers who had lost their lives during the Covid pandemic, before marching through the centre of Bristol.
The protest, organised by NHS workers themselves, called for a 15% pay raise for all NHS staff, the reversal of privatisation and outsourcing and the integration of health and social care. Among those who spoke was an NHS nurse who asked of the government: "How can you do this to us after what we did for you?" Her sentiments were echoed on the placards, which highlighted the hypocrisy of the Tories who applauded NHS staff every week, then proceeded to 'carve' them out of the pay rises.
Speaking on behalf of Bristol Trades Council, Socialist Party member Sheila Caffrey linked the struggles faced by NHS staff to the broader crisis within the public sector. Our demand for the reversal of all privatisation and outsourcing resonated strongly with the crowd. Shelia ended by saying: "Your fight is our fight, if we fight together, we will win".
Amy Sage, Bristol Socialist Party
Socialist Party members took to Horseguards Parade to march (socially distanced) with a thousand nurses and other health workers who are demanding a decent pay rise.
The turnout was great. Marchers were lively - chanting and full of energy. However, the turnout could have been a lot greater were the march better publicised by the trade unions that were present. NHS staff deserve to be represented by trade unions whose leadership is up to the task. As one young NHS worker put it: "I'd like to know why my union isn't calling these protests."
The workers' demand is a simple one: a 15% pay rise. We were there to support this demand, and fight for the rise to be immediate, including for those in privatised sectors like care and cleaning. These workers have kept our health and care system going in the face of the pandemic. With the pandemic ongoing, we will be campaigning and supporting rightfully angry health workers who, as they put it, 'cannot pay their bills with claps'.
Starting from the Royal Victoria Infirmary, about 300 NHS staff and supporters marched to Newcastle city centre with chants of "Who's NHS, Our NHS" and "NHS; Not for sale". A strong showing of Socialist Party members in the area allowed our socialist leaflets to be handed out to almost all who attended, and copies of the Socialist were sold.
"Claps don't pay our bills" and "Nurses are for life, not just for pandemics" were among the slogans on homemade placards at the 250-strong demonstration in Leeds of NHS and care workers fighting for a pay rise.
This turnout would have been even bigger if it weren't for the local lockdowns imposed on some parts of West Yorkshire and the recent spikes of Covid in a few areas in Leeds. Some of the protesters had booked an hour's annual leave in their working day to come out from the hospital to participate in the rally.
The demonstration was marked by the absence of trade unions who represent these workers, apart from a few activists and representatives of local trades councils, such as Leeds TUC, who organised stewarding for the demo. Unison, the largest public sector union, even went as far as advising branches against attending.
However the organisers, Anthony and Gem, rightly encouraged NHS workers to join a union and become active in it to fight for the 15% pay rise demand.
Tanis Belsham-Wray, Leeds Socialist Party member and secretary of Leeds TUC, echoed the organisers' call for workers to join a union and become active in it, as did Adrian O'Malley, Wakefield Socialist Party member and Unison secretary at Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust.
Alex Brown, from Sheffield Socialist Party, and branch secretary of the PCS NHS Digital branch based in Leeds, raised how trade union activists and communities came together in campaigns to save the Glenfield heart unit in Leicester and the walk-in centre in Sheffield, both campaigns where the Socialist Party played a leading role, and said that the same approach should be used to build support for any necessary industrial action to win a pay rise.
The raucous reception to Alex's speech was also reflected in the interest shown in the Socialist Party's material, with almost every attendee taking one of our leaflets and 25 of them buying a copy of the Socialist, including one for a tenner and many others at the £2 solidarity price.
The task now is to build on the enthusiasm from this demonstration and the 35+ others around the country to create a movement that can force a substantial pay rise - as health workers in France have recently won.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
Between 150 and 200 people protested in Manchester, a good number considering the increased lockdown in the city. There were lots of homemade placards. Socialist Party members spoke to the gathering and distributed our leaflets.
Over 500 angry nurses, other NHS staff and supporters gathered outside the Wales Millenium Centre for a march to the Senedd, to rally for an immediate 15% pay increase for NHS workers.
In spite of the leaderships of Unison and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) having done nothing to build for the event, there was a clear mood to fight against years of real-terms pay cuts, and the UK and Welsh governments' chronic mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis.
Speakers at the rally included Socialist Party members Beth Webster, a nurse on the front line of the pandemic and fighter against low pay and poor working conditions in the NHS, and Katrine Williams brought solidarity from Cardiff Trades Council.
Instead of heading to the sun-drenched Gower coast, 4-500 protesters turned out to an inspiring city centre rally in support of NHS, care and essential workers who are demanding an immediate pay rise.
Alongside rank and file nurses, one Labour MP and a member of the Welsh parliament (MS), five Socialist Party members addressed the rally including one of our youngest and one of our oldest members!
There was loud applause for our demands that the health unions, in particular the Unison leadership, should officially take up this fight now, instead of boycotting and undermining these magnificent, spontaneous protests. 'The fight is just beginning' was the rallying call from the Swansea organisers!
An energetic crowd of 300 - mainly nurses - marched through Merthyr Tydfil to demand a 15% pay rise. The slogan of the march was "Be Fair to those who Care" - and the demo organisers pointed out that the demo was part of something much larger: nurses were marching in town centres all over the country.
Nurses wore NHS t-shirts. The mood was lively and confident. At the end of the march, one of the nurses read out a poem about the sacrifices that nurses have been making during the pandemic.
Beth Winter MP and Mick Antoniw, an MS, spoke. The event was stewarded by Merthyr Trades Council. People eagerly took Socialist Party placards.
Over 50 NHS workers and supporters gathered to protest for a pay rise at the Princess of Wales hospital, Bridgend. The overwhelming mood was of anger against Boris Johnson, who does not think that now is the time to discuss a pay rise for nurses.
One placard read: "Bojo give us what we deserve. We saved your life, now give us a living wage to save others!" Also there was a concern to defend the NHS itself, with homemade placards stating: "N4S - Not For Sale".
About 100 people came to the fair pay for NHS workers protest in Southampton. The NHS workers who spoke at the rally were determined and angry. They demanded an immediate 15% pay rise not just to reflect their hard work during the Covid crisis but also because their pay in real terms had fallen so much that many could not make ends meet.
They talked about the need to reverse the privatisation of the NHS and to keep it out of Trump's hands at all costs. The Socialist Party speaker was met with applause when calling for a fighting trade union leadership which is prepared to lead the way in the struggles ahead.
A socialist programme for the NHS should include:
- An immediate 15% pay rise for all health and care staff including those in privatised sectors Minimum wage of £12 an hour - £15 in London. Scrap zero-hours contracts immediately
- Reverse all privatisations. Scrap the 'Private Finance Initiative' and cancel all PFI debts
- Bring all outsourced workers and services in-house on a permanent contract
- A fully publicly funded NHS and care system, free at the point of use. Scrap prescription charges in England, dental charges and all health charges
- Nationalise the private healthcare sector, care homes, the medical supply industry and the pharmaceutical companies - integrate them into the NHS
- Reinstate student bursaries and scrap tuition fees in England
- We can't trust pro-privatisation, pro-austerity, anti-working-class politicians
- Fight for the building of a new mass workers' party
- Unite and fight the institutionalised racism of the bosses. Black Lives Matter!
- A socialist NHS - democratically run by elected and accountable committees, including service workers and users
- A socialist planned economy to end oppression, poverty and inequality
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 10 August 2020 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.