England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

“Pay Us What You Owe Us!”: Socialists show support for NHS workers

On 8 August, NHS staff, including nurses and care workers, took to the streets across the country to protest the Tories’ decision to lock them out of their announced public sector pay rise. After battling the pandemic on the front line, this decision represents a huge slap in the face. This is why members and supporters of Socialist Alternative came out in solidarity with these pay demands.

With many socialist health workers in our ranks, we stressed the need for the unions to begin seriously mobilising support for possible strike action where necessary. This movement, if it is to win big, will have to be built from hospital to hospital, ward to ward to mobilise for further days of action that can show where working class people stand.

If you agree with this and like what you hear from our members’ reports, join Socialist Alternative today.

“I want to thank everyone who came to the demonstration in Medway today for the national day of action for a 15% pay rise for NHS workers.

Around 50 people assembled and marched through Chatham demanding an end to chronic low pay in the NHS.

I was especially proud of the great turn out from the critical care team past and present. To build the kind of movement we need to, to force the government into valuing healthcare workers in our pay packets we need to organise in every ward and department in every hospital and clinic in the country. Today was a great start, but it was just a beginning.”

Jacqui Berry, Kent and Medway SA, health worker and Unison NEC member (personal capacity)

“The demonstration in Liverpool went well for those of us in Merseyside SA. We were able to distribute flyers and actively sold our NHS-themed magazine, written by our health worker members. There was a noticeable presence of a wider mass of support for these demands. The main speakers and organisers were NHS workers themselves, but just as many anti-cuts activists and left-wing groups were present as well to show their solidarity. The NHS staff who were there were very receptive to our presence, and we got details from a number of those workers present. Maybe our newly acquired table and SA flag helped us out!”

David Thomas, Merseyside SA, UCU activist and university worker

“Around 200 workers and activists attended the Newcastle NHS pay rally. While there unfortunately no union banners or official labour movement speakers, there were many rank-and-file speakers stressing the need for further struggle to meet their demands. Many talked about the need for activists to put pressure on the unions to press for the full 15% pay rise. Contrary to Tory fearmongering about the protests spreading Covid-19, social distancing was strongly adhered to and virtually everyone wore a wask.

Geoff Stokle, Newcastle SA

“Around 250 people gathered in Sheffield City Centre to make the demands. There was an angry mood at the way the key workers that the Tory government called ‘heroes’ are being refused a pay rise – despite the fact that their pay has declined by up to 25% as one speaker noted. Another speaker, an ambulance paramedic and Unison member, got huge cheers when she said: “We are fighting for a Socialist NHS – democratically controlled, free at the point of use and fully funded. The trade unions and the Labour Party need to get on the streets and get behind us!”

The crowd then marched around the city centre, enthusiastically picking up the chants Socialist Alternative suggested – particularly ‘Clapping doesn’t pay the rent – we demand 15%’.”

Sam Morecroft, Sheffield SA, UCU activist and education worker

“The day’s events began in Swanswell Park – a short walk from the city centre. SA members arrived early to set up a stall ahead of the march and engaged with the arriving activists while demonstrators gathered.

The march itself would make its way to the city centre. Around a hundred activists made up of trade unionists, health workers and supporters marched forth under the mantras ‘what do we want? Fair pay! When do we want it? Now!’ and ‘Clapping don’t pay the rent- fair pay now!’.

Upon arriving in the square, we set up next to the protest and began to engage with the protest crowd and general public. Comrades were very well received, gaining many signatures, donations and distributing literature. It was clear by the many conversations that the, people harboured great sympathy with the plight of the NHS workers. This outrage was expressed from people of many different backgrounds and political views, highlighting how out of touch the ruling class is with the people, even among their own support base.

By the end of the day, we had raised £47 via donations, sold 18 our NHS magazines and 3 badges. Four people present expressed an interest in joining Socialist Alternative, leaving their details to do so.”

Rob Leahy, Coventry SA, college student

“250 NHS workers and supporters gathered in Millennium Square Leeds. Planned over only the last two weeks – the demonstration showed strong support for the claim. The event was organised by NHS staff, many of whom are entirely new to struggle.

One organiser, Anthony Johnson, said that he was attending because, since he saw the news of the nurses’ bursery being scrapped, he saw the need to be active and fighting for change in his union. Gemma Williams, another organiser, said that she naively thought the government would reward NHS workers following Covid – instead, she said, they have “clapped them, then slapped them”.

“There was a tremendous mood at the event, with chants and speeches from people who had never protested before or spoken in public. In my role in York TUC and as a member of Socialist Alternative, I spoke to highlight the callousness of the Tories, who have lied and deceived NHS staff and workers from the start, which stresses the need for unity in struggle. Speaker after speaker praised our medical staff, and many called for mass campaigns to protect the NHS from privatisation and other attacks.

Strong links are being made between workers in different sectors and unions. They are being made by many moving into struggle for the first time. As one of the speakers said, ‘if the union leaders won’t fight then let’s get new leaders who will’. It was also unfortunately noticeable that no MPs or senior Labour figures were there to show their support.”

Nigel Smith, York SA, York Trades Council Secretary (personal capacity)

“The Manchester demonstration was originally cancelled when the new regional restrictions came in on 30th July. In its place, one mental health Unison branch said they would organise a socially distanced protest in Piccadilly Gardens. In the end, 120 attended with delegations of three or four individuals from a significant range of hospitals in Greater Manchester.

In an open mic session, health workers spoke out about the betrayals over PPE, unpaid overtime and the 20% decline in wages over 10 years. A number of speakers called for strike action and solidarity from other unions. Two of our members spoke and were well received. We sold 15 NHS magazines and raised £18 fighting fund, getting many contacts who are interested in coming to our public Zoom meeting this Thursday on how health workers can win.”

– Paul Gerrard, Manchester SA

“Despite the scorching heat, the Brighton NHS day of action had a respectable turnout and was led from the front by nurses and workers. A GMB union rep was quick to remind everyone that this is a march for nurses organised by nurses and as such they would be front and centre when the march snaked through town.

Widely discussed was the issue of further action. it was clear to everyone there that this was not the end. Rather, there was a widespread understanding amongst the workers present that this would be the first stepping stone among many. Regular protest and action would be inevitable if hospital workers were to cow the government and the regressive trade unions that had compromised and stalled talks of actual wage increases. A distaste could be felt towards the performative action of simply clapping for the NHS, with one nurse’s sign reading ‘Claps don’t pay your bills!’

What was demanded here was tangible change – a pay increase that would match current inflation rates, a wage increase that would allow the frontline workers who have risked so much treating others to live a decent life. In between speeches, a minute’s silence was held for all those who had lost their life fighting the current pandemic. Despite there being a smaller turnout than expected there was a real positivity in the air, a real understanding of the power that could come through continued solidarity and action. With more protests planned this could eventually lead to unified action, with the potential to gravitate towards a general strike amongst hospital staff.”

– Daniel Coulston, Brighton SA,


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