Up to 500,000 NHS workers in England struck out four hours today, Monday, in the first national health strike over pay for 32 years.
Unison, GMB and Unite union members all walked out and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) struck for the first time in its 133-year history.
Health workers are furious with Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt for refusing to give most NHS workers even a 1 percent pay rise.
Linnet Johnson is a Unison rep at north London’s Whittington Hospital. She told Socialist Worker, “We’ve haven’t had a pay in the last three to five years — and we’ve had enough.
“Many of the lowest paid are forced to go to food banks and take out pay day loans.”
Workers from the four health union held large and lively picket lines.
The 50-strong University College Hospital (UCH) picket in central London marched around the hospital and briefly blocked the road.
Forty people joined the York District Hospital picket lines. Delegations of local government and rail workers brought Unison, Unite, PCS and TSSA union banners.
Ambulance workers were out in strength at Whipps Cross Hospital in east London.
One ambulance worker said, “The overwhelming feeling today is the resolve to take back our NHS. We need an escalation in the action to do that.”
Trade unionists and health campaigners came down to “Breakfasts for the NHS” to support health workers and hand in workplace collections.
Bolton had four huge picket lines, with 400 bacon butties and 250 cups of tea and coffee consumed.
Unison NEC member Karen Reissman (pc) said, “The picket lines were fantastic and very political — mine had over 100 on it by 10am.”
The strike was officially about pay — but strikers also want to stop attacks on the NHS.
UCH Unite branch chair Eugene Czauderna told Socialist Worker, “It’s not just about pay. The fact that the government doesn’t appreciate health workers is reflected in their pay offer.
“But we’re striking to keep the NHS going.”
Portsmouth midwife Gill Allen said, “We are striking because we want better care for mothers and babies.”
Unison rep Wendy added, “It’s about working conditions too. We’re having to work longer hours with bigger workloads — then there’s the targets.
“We don’t want any more privatisation.”
RCM members were well represented on picket lines. UCH RCM steward Anna White told Socialist Worker, “I’ve been qualified for five years and my pay has gone down in real terms.
“We’re also paying more on our pensions now. We didn’t put up a fight then and we have to now.”
Unison, Unite and GMB members are taking action short of strike for the rest of the week by taking their proper breaks.
Karen said, “We launched a campaign against the privatisation of Bolton’s psychological therapy department. We’re going to use the breaks to petition in the town centre.”
Unison is talking about another four-hour strike in November and is balloting its health members inWales.
Janet Maiden, Unison sector group executive (pc), said, “We need to keep on taking action. I think the next step has to be at least a 24-hour strike.”
The strike has shown that health workers want to fight — and that they can win massive support. Union leaders should now call escalating, coordinated action to win.