Nurses in the RCN on the streets of central London (pic: Guy Smallman)

Pressure from below has forced leaders of the nurses’ RCN union to announce that they will step up their pay strikes. The union says it will now run continuous 48-hour strikes involving day and nightshift workers. And, for the first time, it plans to hit new areas, such as intensive care and emergency departments.

Until now, the union has only run strikes on day shifts between 8am and 8pm. It also allowed for some 5,000 “derogations”—staff and departments that unions and management agree to exempt from action.

Many nurses working on wards that should have only minimum cover on a strike day have instead found they have “the best staffing for years”. Strikers continue to tell Socialist Worker that to win, the union needs to “toughen up”.

And, a large survey by the NursingNotes news website last month found 71 ­percent of respondents wanted to “withdraw all care except life-saving services”.

Rob, a striking nurse in south London, thinks that most people on his picket lines want more action. “The RCN is a very ­conservative union, but the entrance of so many young people can really change things,” he told Socialist Worker. 

“And I think that’s what’s happening now— though we won’t shift the whole union overnight.” “Everyone here is saying we have to hit more hospitals for longer. It’s the only way to win.”

While tougher action is necessary, Rob also thinks all the health unions need to coordinate their strikes so that everyone is out on the same days. “I really felt that last Thursday when the physios were out but we weren’t,” he said. “We work with physios every day, so it’s bad that we are separated when on strike.”

Rob is correct to say the union must do more. Health union leaders initially ­convinced many that in this strike public opinion would be decisive. But faced with Tory intransigence, and managers’ attempts to undermine action, many strikers now think only really tough action can break through.

Rob is a pseudonym

NHS bosses try intimidation tactics

Hospital bosses are using intimidation tactics in a bid to undermine the nurses’ strikes. And they particularly target migrant workers worried that taking action could lose them their work visas.

“Managers are very careful not to put anything in print or to openly say something in a ward WhatsApp group,” says south London nurse, Rob. “But it’s clear they are trying to break the strike this way—and that they particularly target those who might be worried about their immigration status.”

Managers are desperate to maintain minimum of staffing levels so they can declare wards and clinics open. Wards that are derogated should be run with staffing equivalent to that on a night shift or bank holiday. “Instead of this, we had a doctor come to our picket line last week and tell us that on some wards, there are far more staff than on a typical working day.

“We have to put a stop to that. The union is collecting the details of these incidents, but I think we have to respond more quickly. “We have to deal with these threats collectively. “People are angry about what’s been happening, and are pushing the RCN reps to act.”

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