On Monday, Northern Ireland’s NHS Unison workers kicked off the week’s strike action - manning chilly but determined picket lines! Chanting and singing they received resounding support from nearly everyone passing by.
These workers who are organised in Unison, haven’t seen their real pay rise in 10 years! And that says it all about the strikes scheduled this week. English, Scots and Welsh healthcare workers are the lowest paid in Europe, but the Northern Irish are paid lower still...
So no, it’s not a case of “can you afford to go on strike?”, but “can you afford not to?”!
Next out, the rail and postal workers, are also bottom of the heap, with some earning a basic well under £20,000 pa, relying on allowances and overtime to make up their wages. Yet bosses aren’t just refusing pay rises equal to inflation - but say they’re not paying a penny until workers agree to “change” or “reform”! And that is precisely why these bosses have to be beaten: they’re using this year’s pay bargaining to enforce radical cuts - in workers’ numbers and conditions.
This policy has got a well-worn name: it’s called “making the working class pay for the recession”! In fact for them, the working class exists only to suffer the exploitation and if need be, starvation they impose, unlike bankers, financiers and speculators. When this latter bunch of crooks threatens to go bust, the Bank of England prints money for it and the government undertakes huge loans to keep it going - in 2008 that was up to £500 billion all-told!
No, it’s a price-price inflation spiral
And yet today, they cannot find a mere £28bn - the amount they claim it will cost to pay all public sector workers an inflation-proof pay rise? Or the £9bn which Health Secretary “Barclay the Brute” says it would cost, to give the nurses the perfectly justifiable 14.2% RPI plus 5% they demand?
On Monday morning, Barclay, while still refusing to meet nurses’ leader Pat Cullen, said “We’ve had to take money away from patients waiting for operations to then fund additional pay”! What a lie! There’s been no “additional pay”! He offered a real pay cut of 4-5% to nurses in June, but that’s not even paid yet! Besides this is an outrageous argument - playing the needs of patients off against the needs of those same health workers who are keeping them alive and well! It’s utterly distasteful and offensive!
Under pressure, Barclay will now meet union leaders, but it’s unlikely he’ll offer what NHS staff need. That’s not the way of this government. It claims there is no money for nurses, no money for railway workers, and in fact no money for anyone, except their own very best friends in high places...
And by the way, it’s not the way of the “Loyal Opposition” either. Labour’s latest right-wing wonder, Wes Streeting, declared war on BMA doctors who’re also threatening to strike. And has scarcely been able to hold his own reactionary and nasty tongue when it comes to discussing the strikes, which he opposes.
Sunak is repeating the refrain that “these wage rises will fuel a wage-price spiral” when economic brains far better than his (Institute for Fiscal Studies among others), but no less reactionary, have made it quite clear that inflation is driven by price increases and wages have played no role in this, and indeed have fallen, especially in the public sector - by 7.7%, before the current shooting up of the RPI to 14.2% - so they are lagging by 21%!
And that given this low level, increasing wages can only help counter stagflation, by boosting spending power...
The NHS emergency
In the meantime, the press is going all-out to create anti-strike panic - and it suits Sunak’s government to talk this up. So the public is told in the gravest of tones that Cobra is meeting and that the army is going to be “on standby” during NHS strikes...
One can only wonder why on earth it takes a strike this winter to call for the army’s help? When for instance, in the West Midlands alone 37 people died (so far) this year because an ambulance failed to arrive in time, compared to just one death in 2020-1?
But in truth, the army has always been mobilised when firefighters or ambulance workers went on strike. Older workers can remember those “Green Goddesses”; the huge Bedford fire-trucks dating from WW2 which appeared in 2002-3 during the firefighters’ strike.
In fact the media nodding heads who gasp when nurses say they need a 20% rise, or worse, when BMA doctors say they need 25%, would probably have passed right out in 2002. At the time, firefighters demanded a 40% pay rise, after an offer of 4%! And had they not been fighting on their own, they might even have got it!
And this is the most important point of all. Today, with the strike calendar filled with different strikes each day - the working class still does not have its “general strike”... That is, all sections out together, maximum force, to win! Not only do we still have to synchronise our strikes, but we also need to synchronise demands: RPI plus pay for all; no cuts; services back in public hands under our control! All for one; one for all!