Earlier this month, on 6-7 February, tens of thousands of health workers walked out across the country. Now, in the face of an intransigent Tory government that is intent on waging class war against the trade unions, nurses are escalating their dispute.
According to Nursing Notes, members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are preparing for a “a continuous strike” which “will run for 48 hours through two days and two nights”.
This will be “an all-out strike” that “would call on previously derogated areas – such as intensive care and emergency departments – to join the picket lines”.
Notably, this call for all-out action flies in the face of the Tory government’s attempts to curb the right to strike by imposing ‘minimum service levels’. This represents an important step forward for the nurses’ struggle.
‘Radicalising a generation’
There is clearly widespread support for ramping up these strikes. A recent survey by Nursing Notes found that 71% of nurses supported escalating action “to withdraw all care except essential life-saving services, such as intensive care units and emergency departments”.
There is also a developing mood amongst health union members to link up their struggles. NHS workers across the board are fighting just to keep their heads above the water. And ultimately, we are all battling against a common enemy: the employers and the Tories.
On 6 and 7 February, RCN members up and down the country once again took to the picket lines, displaying tremendous energy and enthusiasm in their fight against the Tory government, and for fair pay and patient safety.
This time, on 6 February, nurses were joined by striking ambulance workers. Shortly after, physiotherapists undertook strike action on 9 February.
This tsunami of struggle throughout the NHS – and across the trade union movement – is providing invaluable experience to workers who have never before engaged in industrial action.
In turn, workers are gaining in confidence, and attitudes towards the Tory government are hardening. This is sending fat-cat executives into a panic.
Speaking to ITV News, for example, NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor stated: “I spoke to an ambulance leader…who told me that hundreds more of his workers have joined a trade union since the beginning of the dispute; I spoke to a hospital leader who said the same about nurses.”
“If anything,” Taylor continued, “commitment to the industrial action is growing stronger among staff; there’s no sign of any shift in public opinion either”.
These disputes are “radicalising a generation of NHS workers”, the healthcare boss concluded.
Cuts and crisis
This explosion of militancy amongst NHS workers has been prepared by years of cuts and privatisation.
Successive Tory and New Labour governments, acting in the interests of the capitalists, have carved up the NHS and sold off services to private companies. In conjunction with biting austerity, this has led to a steady erosion of pay and conditions
Despite repeated (expensive) disasters, like Serco’s failure to deliver a functioning test-and-trace system during the pandemic, outsourcing is thriving in Britain’s public services.
And it’s not just the Tories who are promising to feed these profiteering vultures. The right-wing Labour leaders are also enthusiastically calling for further private involvement in the NHS, under the guise of reducing waiting lists.
The NHS will never be safe in the hands of the Tories and their capitalist chums. This is why it is essential to link our fight for fair pay and patient safety with the fight to kick out the profiteers.
To provide the proper funding, the parasites syphoning wealth out of our NHS should be expropriated, without compensation. All outsourcing must be reversed, with services brought under full public ownership and democratic workers’ control.
This would also mean wresting control from bureaucrats and consultants who have only aided and abetted in privatisation, in return for six-figure salaries.
Ultimately, it is us – health workers – who know best how to run the NHS, in the interests of society, not those of the bosses and billionaires.