England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

The fight for NHS pay is a fight to save the NHS

The UNISON NHS Pay Campaign is offering an opportunity for union members to take on the Tory Government. Over a decade of pay cuts for these NHS keyworkers have left many angry and ready for the fightback. The fight for a decent pay rise can act as the first step in dealing with staff shortages, low morale and the attacks of privatisation. The low pay of these keyworkers is a national scandal and strike action can be a significant force in the ongoing strike wave sweeping the country, aimed at getting rid of the Tory Government. With the Royal College of Nursing moving it`s members towards their first strike campaign in history, it is now time for co-ordinated and militant action against the Government.

The Tory Government, headed by our second unelected Prime Minister in a few weeks, offers nothing but the unrelenting diet of unending austerity and privatisation. A leader who will act as nothing more than a mouthpiece for his former employers, the banks and hedge funds.

A key component in any trade union struggle against the Government is the leadership offered by the union. The first Left NEC in UNISON history, has been instrumental in pushing the union into a position where it is now putting it`s resources behind a call for strike action over NHS pay. The union is recommending that members vote for strike action, with the ballot running during November. 

There is a struggle within UNISON with Time For Real Change (TFRC), the Left group in the union trying to transform the union into a democratic and organising union, where members` needs are at the centre of the activities and priorities of union activity. TFRC is working to put more resources into branches that want to fight for their members, and to support those union members in struggle with their employers. UNISON members in struggle against their employers should be at the fore of union action, and not ignored nor disowned as in the Labour Party.

Low pay is at the root of many of the problems facing the NHS. Staff shortages, low morale, burnt out staff and longer working weeks are all symptoms of low pay and underfunding. These are part and parcel of conscious political decisions aimed at preparing the ground for further and far reaching privatisation of the NHS. Even at a local branch level, union members and activists can join the struggle against the agenda of low pay and privatisation.

The Greater Manchester Mental Health UNISON Branch has recently won a collective grievance, with all Band 2 Inpatient HCA/Nursing Assistant/Support Workers being rebanded to Band 3. The backpay for this win will be backdated to 2018. The branch is working on getting the backpay into the pockets of members for Christmas. This victory is an example of how a union branch can make real gains for their members, when the branch leadership, members and Regional Organisers work together.

Putting the concerns of the members at the centre of the branch activity, involving the members democratically at every level of activity and offering a militant leadership, shows how a union branch can organise the members into a powerful force for positive change. 

The NHS has suffered decades of underfunding, attacks by the privateers and staff shortages. The Tory Government is hell bent on the destruction of the NHS. The trade union movement can play a vital role in the defence of the NHS and the defeat of the Tory Government. The main unions in the NHS are in the process of balloting their members for strike action. The UNISON pay campaign is the first step to deal with the decades of pay cuts that have left many with a 30% pay cut, in real terms, over the last twelve years. With over 120,000 job vacancies in the NHS, this tells a story of low pay, low morale and high stress levels, leading to experienced staff leaving the service. 

Health services with endemic understaffing, low morale and where low pay forces staff to work increasingly longer weeks, leaves a service unable to deal with the complex and demanding needs of patients, so affects all of us. This NHS pay campaign is an important battle to save the NHS and so we should all be rallying to support these workers in struggle.

We demand

  • Mental health matters – fully funded services to help treat mental health issues, as well as to help address its causes
  • Nationalise the pharmaceutical companies under democratic workers` control and management
  • Save our NHS – stop the sell off! Build a mass, national campaign to stop cuts and closures and demand full funding for our health service. Stop and reverse all privatisation and cancel PFI debts

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