Both teachers with the NEU and nurses organised with the RCN have resumed their strike activities, taking days of action either side of the May Day weekend.
Workers in both unions have come out fighting against the pathetic pay offers that have been presented to them by the Tory government, despite the enormous pressure being piled on them by the bosses’ media to settle.
The deal offered to the NHS workers – a reported 5% pay offer coupled with a lump-sum payment – is an absolute insult. The offer given to the teachers, of 4.8%, is somehow even worse. No wonder these workers are still up for the struggle!
In the case of the RCN, carrying on the fight also involved overcoming the union’s own leadership. At first, RCN general secretary Pat Cullen backed the awful NHS pay deal. The RCN bureaucracy she heads even went as far as to threaten members who spoke out against it.
As such, both sets of workers were back out over the past week. The teachers formed their pickets on 27 April, while the RCN marched out on May Day itself.
Unfortunately, a second planned day of strike action by the nurses was disgracefully struck down by the courts. This shows once again which side the bourgeois legal system ultimately stands on when it comes to workers’ struggles.
The teachers, meanwhile, took a second day of strike action on 2 May. This involved a number of local rallies, as well as a large march through the centre of London.
These strikes come at an important time for the struggle in Britain.
At the time of writing, the majority of the health strikes appear to be all but over. While the junior doctors with the BMA will carry on their strike, the NHS Staff Council – dominated by right-wing-led unions such as Unison – voted to accept the government’s pay deal.
Unfortunately, the RCN leadership has decided not to fight the deal. While trying to save face by declaring that they will be continuing with their reballot, in practice the leadership may have already scuppered their members’ battle against this paltry offer.
On the other hand, the struggle in schools is now set to step up a notch. Other unions have begun to move towards joining the strikes, with every single teaching union returning a rejection of the government’s pay offer.
Given that local government unions are now balloting their members, it is unlikely they’ll be striking alone for long, either. The first strike wave may be beginning to recede, but the tide of class struggle is still coming in.
As such, it’s not surprising that a fighting mood could be found on both sets of pickets, as Socialist Appeal comrades found during their visits.
Newcastle Socialist Appeal comrades attended the RCN pickets at the Royal Victoria Infirmary. Before you even got close to the picket you could hear chants of “Nurses united will never be defeated!”
What was immediately clear is that this was a young, militant, and enthusiastic picket.
Many were out for the first time as they were emergency nurses who had previously not been able to take action. They said they were nervous and felt a bit guilty, but knew if they didn’t come out that conditions for nurses and patients would just get even worse.
Everyone expressed disappointment that their strikes had been cut a day short. Some felt that the union had acted unprofessionally to allow it to happen and that they should have been striking during negotiations for more pressure. Others felt like they had been got on a technicality.
However, every nurse agreed on two things: that the Tory government needs to go. And that doctors and nurses need to unite to save the NHS.
Marxists from Cambridge Socialist Appeal intervened in the nurses’ strike on May Day. The mood was electric.
Among the younger layers of nurses, there is deep resentment against their union leadership for accepting a pay cut. Many said they felt let down by their leaders.
The bosses are privatising hospitals and medical services, bringing in expensive consultants and contractors. There is always money for them, but not for the staff.
The striking nurses received overwhelming support, evident through the honking of passing cars.
In the evening, a healthcare worker was invited to speak at the Cambridge Marxist Society event. He explained that the bosses are incapable of running hospital operations, and alongside the rising pay disputes, patient care is greatly compromised. But the bosses and government are the ones to blame for the adverse situation faced by patients.
The only way forward is to organise and fight against the bosses, the government, and the capitalist system.
The bosses and government will use all their might to put down the nurses’ struggle. Already, they have used the judiciary to slash one day of strike action on 2 May. There are therefore huge battles ahead for the working class.
Comrades of Socialist Appeal in Southampton supported a rally held by the NEU. The rally was well-attended, with dozens of NEU members present, and also a presence from other unions such as Unite. There was a march from Guildhall Square, through the city centre, to Palmerston Park.
At the park, speeches were given by NEU members, and one of our comrades spoke in solidarity with the NEU at the rally.
A recent article by supporters of Socialist Appeal in the NEU, was well received. Several NEU members gave donations to the paper, and were keen to tell us more about the conditions at their workplaces and around education nationally.
Our comrades spread this information to the rest of the local labour movement. We published the event on our social media, which was warmly welcomed by many other local trade union activists.
There was a determined mood from NEU members present to fight for the future of education. Local NEU members said they’d be happy to come to our local Marxist Society meetings and talk to students and workers about their struggle.
Comrades from the Cornwall branch of Socialist Appeal took part in the NEU’s local rally, based in the town of Falmouth. The mood was decidedly militant – it’s clear that education workers are not done fighting yet.
The rally started with a series of chants, focused on the need to fight for a pay rise. Strikers there were still very buoyed. If the government expects demoralisation to have set in then it’s in for a nasty surprise!
One of our comrades, a UCU member, was recognised by one of the speakers and asked to speak on the platform. His speech, drawing the struggles together and making the case for radical change, was very well received by the crowd there.
While things are still at an early stage in terms of the struggle, the direction is clear. More and more workers are beginning to see the need for a unified struggle, which is the only way we can match strength with the Tories and the capitalists they represent.
If the teachers’ rally in this part of the country is anything to go by, these conclusions are becoming far more widespread. And with other education unions looking like they’ll come out too, the struggle will only sharpen!