By Danny James, RCN Nurse, ISL
The recent announcement of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) of their first national strike in their 106-year history marks a significant escalation of the strike wave sweeping Britain. The RCN has traditionally been a conservative union with a no-strike clause in its membership until the mid-nineties, however, events in the NHS have forced this once timid union into the heart of the storm sweeping British industry.
Generations of underfunding and low pay have crippled our NHS. Since the advent of the Tory government in 2010, an average Band 5 nurse has lost 20% of their pay in real terms. On top of this as the UK population and its average age increases the demand for the service has grown with no equivalent funding to match that demand. This has led to intolerable pressures on front-line staff leading to a mass exodus.
The number of nurses leaving the NHS is up 70% this year, and there are now over 40,000 nursing vacancies in England alone. The consequences for the standards of patient care hardly need spelling out. Is it any wonder then that the recent 4% pay deal in the teeth of double-digit inflation on the high street was rejected because it was nothing more than an insult to NHS staff?
It must be made clear in the face of clear Tory provocation that this is not primarily about the pound in the average nurse’s pocket. This is a strike to defend services and care standards for all patients. Without a fair pay deal, it will become increasingly impossible for staff to be recruited and retained and the NHS will sink further into the mire, ripe for privatisation.
The dispute in the NHS must be seen as part of the wider wave of disputes that have sprung up all over the country. However, the leaders of the trade union bureaucracy would rather that we do not join the dots. They have no interest in co-ordinating joint actions across various sectors as the price of their privileged positions is maintaining social peace for the ruling class. The task of organising joint action, therefore, falls to the ordinary rank and file union members. Striking workers should be forging links with each other, be they nurses, railway workers, teachers or postal staff in order to coordinate joint actions and to push for a general strike. This is the way in which ordinary workers can secure a victory that ensures fair pay deals for all.
RCN members will be striking on 18 and 19 January, all are welcome on our picket lines, please support us.