A group of nurses at east London’s Barts NHS trust are so furious with low pay and understaffing that they’ve joined the Unite union—and struck last week.
Cleaners, porters, kitchen staff, auxiliaries, technicians, and now nurses, walked out over pay and conditions. They also struck over the non-payment of the government’s “Covid bonus” to some staff.
And last week they were joined by doctors and consultants in the BMA union, and by radiographers.
The nurses spoke to Socialist Worker about the anger sweeping the profession, and why the big health unions were wrong to agree to this year’s low pay deal.
You are already members of the nurses’ RCN union, what made you decide to be part of the Unite strike?
As staff that cover areas of the hospital caring for critically unwell patients, we have watched our colleagues in other areas strike. We were very hopeful of the changes this could force.
But on the day the pay deal was announced there was confusion, anger and an overall feeling of distrust towards the unions that forced us to accept this deal.
The deal did not at all address our needs and demands as A&E nurses. And although we’re aware it was voted for by union members, we didn’t feel that it was enough.
When we found out that Unite was willing to really listen to us, and be led by us in further negotiations, we felt we could have hope again. So we signed up with them.
Many of us are still members of RCN and would love it if they would back us to win a new round of negotiations.
Many nurses were unhappy with the pay deal that the RCN settled for in the summer. How widespread is the feeling of being let down on pay and staffing among nurses?
A huge majority, if not all, of the nursing staff in our department felt let down by the pay deal.
The feeling was that it was a deal made to silence us and did absolutely nothing to address our needs. This was across nurses of different levels and experience—from the most junior to the most senior, everyone felt let down.
We know our value to the health system and public, we know how much we give every single shift, day after day, for years on end. We know the sacrifices we make to our health, families and friends to do this crucial job. But to be told that we are not worth enough to be given what we are asking for is heartbreaking.
As professionals we know what we need to do for our patients but we haven’t got the staffing to be able to put this into action.
That means we are constantly disappointed in ourselves for reasons that are outside our control, which doesn’t give us job satisfaction and leads to higher levels of burnout. That in turn leads many people to leave the profession, further fuelling the staffing issues we already face.
What is it like to be on the picket lines together with people in all the other hospital roles? That kind of unity in a hospital is rare, right? Does the action help break down the hospital hierarchies?
We don’t see that hierarchy in A&E. We’re so dependent on other staff to be able to do our job, we see them around and work with them all the time. The unity amongst the groups of workers currently striking is not rare at all.
But the divide we do feel is the lack of unity from non-clinical managers. Being out on strike together has felt powerful. It’s great to be able to support each other’s strike demands and this has only increased morale among everyone.
What do you think should happen now?
Talks have been had but no progress has been made. So we need to keep up the momentum of the strikes in order to get our demands acknowledged.
We need to continue the unity between Unite members, the BMA and the other unions striking.
The more of us that strike and show how crucial we are to the running of the hospital, the better chance we have of getting our demands met.
We are asking for things that will only benefit the future of the NHS and improve the standard of care for our patients.Original post