Yesterday was Unite’s Day of Action over NHS pay, with lunchtime protests across the country. I was at the protest outside St Thomas’ Hospital, just across the river from the Houses of Parliament. One of the chants – alongside the obvious ‘Cut my pay – no way’ was a more imaginative ‘Cut their pay – YES!‘
The protests will have varied in size – the one I was on was lively but not particularly large; I heard very positive reports of the protest in Colindale (a major centre of the National Blood Service and the Public Health Laboratory), and also from Brighton. Other reports will come in over the next day or two. All of the events will have characterised by the absolute disgust of health workers at an imposed pay ‘award’ that is so clearly a pay cut.
On the Tommy’s protest we were joined by a couple of local government workers who had been on strike over the preceding two days (one of them a Unison member). We talked about the need for unity across the public sector and across our unions. The Government attack is on all public sector workers.
Will the Day of Action have had Gordon Brown quaking in his boots? No, of course not – and this was never the intention. The events yesterday were simply about making sure that the issue of NHS pay doesn’t drop off the agenda. The message went out to the Government and the employers (and to our own members) that three years of pay cuts isn’t acceptable to us, and we haven’t gone away. This was a small step in a bigger campaign.
Of course, the Day of Action was nothing like the scale of the local government strike on Wednesday and Thursday. It was great to see united action from Unison and Unite members in local government. There were also a number of reports that, although the GMB members had voted to accept the deal, rank and file GMB members were refusing to cross picket lines. The fact it was united action was important. It doesn’t matter which union we are in – a pay cut is a pay cut, whether you’re in Unite, Unison or the GMB.
I believe the local government strike gave an important boost to our pay campaign in the NHS. Unite is now in a formal dispute with the employers over the 3 year deal being imposed on our members.
Next week our lay Pay Strategy Committee, elected from the NHS committees of both the TGWU and Amicus sections of Unite, will be meeting to plan the action going forward. As the Union said in its press release about the Day of Action, one of the items on the agenda will be planning the industrial action ballot. We have already started the difficult job of ensuring our membership lists are tidied up – made more important by Tory/New Labour anti-union laws – so we will be in a position to ballot after the summer.
We are in discussions with other public sector unions about joint industrial action. It won’t unfortunately be joint action in the NHS with Unison, but we hope we will be able to have joint industrial action with significant numbers of other public sector workers.
Brown is reeling – we need to step up the pressure on him. Defeating him on public sector pay is not only possible – it’s a necessity for our members.