Junior doctors protesting last July over pay (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Nurses plan to strike for two days next month in a fantastic escalation of the pay battle ­spreading across Britain. RCN union leaders in England, Wales and Northern Ireland announced last week they’ll stage their first ­walkouts on Thursday 15 and Tuesday 20 December. That will mean picket lines ­outside hospitals in much of Britain for the first time in years.

Workers in the Unison union were waiting for results in strike ballots across the NHS as Socialist Worker went to press. The votes were expected to see action at a significant number of trusts and will be a further boost to the health workers’ pay fight. Other unions, including the GMB, Unite, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the British Dietetic Association are all also balloting for strikes. 

With hundreds of thousands of workers already in dispute, the nurses’ strike news should raise the political temperature to feverish levels. The strike on 15 December coincides with a planned Royal Mail strike. Other unions should schedule action on the NHS strike days.

Lucy, an A&E nurse in the west of England with 14 years’ experience, says the coming strike reflects a “sea change” among nurses.  “When I first started my job, I never thought I’d see us striking,” she explained.

“But now we’ve really had enough. We went through the first round of austerity, the three-year pay freeze followed by the below-inflation rises. Then we saw all the Tory scandals. We had the Test and Trace and PPE contracts handed out, and bankers’ bonuses and so on. People are just not willing to accept low pay anymore.” 

With the government ­digging in its heels, Lucy thinks that the union will have to call “serious action” to force ministers to give in. She is absolutely right. The RCN says it will announce which NHS employers will be hit when it submits formal notifications later this week. The union beat the turnout thresholds demanded by anti-union laws at 176 workplaces

The government imposed a lousy 4 percent “pay rise” on almost all NHS staff this autumn and then ended negotiations. The RCN is fighting for a fully funded pay rise that is 5 percent above the rate of inflation. That should mean only an offer close to 20 percent can settle the dispute.

That, it rightly says, is the only way to fill the tens of thousands of vacancies across the NHS. Until there is safe ­staffing on every ward, patients’ safety will be at risk. Every activist and trade unionist must now prepare to surround striking nurses with a wave of active solidarity, including walkouts, ­lunchtime rallies and mass delegations to picket lines.

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