Tin-eared Liz Truss is obsessed with tax cuts, so why shouldn’t NHS nurses go on strike? | Polly Toynbee

S.overcoming all strikes, delaying the nurses’ vote, leaving this year’s TUC key annual conference in mourning for the queen. You may notice that this respect for the late monarch by workers facing gigantic wage cuts has not been matched by the London Stock Exchange, which has lost not a nanosecond of stock trading, even among those companies that profit from the high prices of the stock market. power. Imagine the outrage over the treason of the Mail and other newspapers if Mick Lynch did the same.

Strikes among the increasingly unlikely “militants” will resume soon; Journalists from the Daily Express, criminal lawyers and post office workers go on strike. Thus it will reject collectors, firefighters, Felixstowe dock workers and a growing storm of other workers who cannot absorb huge wage cuts beyond the G7’s lowest wage growth.

So far, public opinion supports them, as Public First pollster James Frayne recently told Politico. “There is a lot of public sympathy for the strikers. Most people think, well, if I had to face a 10 or 20 percent pay cut and had a job where I could strike … I would, “he said. Public sector workers’ pay has been hit hard. from blockades and cuts, so it has lagged far behind the private sector. People know that unions speak for them. one million vacancies.

It is impossible to know how far sympathy for strikes will extend if they are seriously disruptive, but the ill-judged threats of even stricter anti-strike laws of Liz Truss, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s labor rights bonfire or the like of the Congressman Tobias Ellwood calling rail workers “Putin’s friend” will likely only elicit more support.

Then there are the nurses. The Royal College of Nursing in England, Wales and Scotland never went on strike, but any remnants of Florence Nightingale’s sense of duty have been wiped out by current conditions within the NHS. Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the RCN, toured the hospitals talking to its members before the ballot, now postponed. It’s a sign of the times that none of the hospitals RCN contacted allowed me to accompany Cullen and listen to the nurses.

Preventing the press from scrutinizing frontline services is now the norm: the NHS is too intimidated by government pressure and the upset of four health secretaries in 18 months. This has never been the case under the job. I have been refused permission to visit an employment center several times. For a decade, I asked to observe HMRC minimum wage inspectors at work, but each time I was turned down.

Cullen says nurses will vote for strike, not just for pay, but against working conditions so intolerable and appalling that 8% fewer candidates are training to become nurses this year. “Many leave with an afterthought when they see what’s ahead,” he told me. This is a growing disaster for the NHS when there are more than 46,000 vacancies, a number that is rising again and worse in community and mental health care. Nursing students are piling up £ 50,000 in debt after their scholarships were cut in 2017. Those nurses work all hours on unpaid internships, including evenings and weekends. They are increasingly used to wash, bathe and feed patients by overworked registered nurses who do not have enough time to give them proper education.

“What they see are 13-hour shifts from 7am to 8pm, often unpaid later because the understaffed wards only have three registered nurses and two health assistants who care for 30 very sick elderly patients.” Cullen said. He talks to exhausted nurses, afraid of the dangers of their impossible workload. “The new secretary of state should take some time to put himself in their shoes for a week.”

In real terms, the RCN says, nurses have lost 10% of their salary since 2010. About 60% are stuck in the lowest range 5 for registered nurses, earning between £ 25,000 and £ 28,000. Many others have stayed there to save government money, when they may have previously climbed the wage ladder faster. Many London nurses cannot afford to rent locally. “Some travel two hours each way, at a cost of £ 500 a month. I challenge any politician to live like this, paying rent and childcare, never owning a car or a house, “said Cullen. Vacancies for EU nurses who have left the EU are filled by nurses recruited from countries on the World Health Organization’s red list, such as Nepal, who cannot spare them. “But when they get here, foreign nurses cannot survive on their pay, not even living in three per room, not to talk about sending money home to children. They ask me to help them get home. “

Nurses concerned about the strike asked Cullen how they can leave their patients. She tells them how the success of the five-day strike she led in Northern Ireland in 2019 increased the number of nurses: they did all the emergency work in the emergency room and wards, but stopped scheduled surgeries, adding to the already growing waiting lists. A strike by nurses, and probably doctors and other health workers, would mean that the NHS slips further. The service is already overwhelmed, with 6.8 million people waiting for operations. Despite recent legislation allowing P&O-style strike by agency workers, Northern Ireland’s nursing agencies refused. Cullen says that in England, Wales and Scotland, once again, nursing agencies would refuse to provide strike-breakers.

Last week he had a chance encounter with four nurses at a train station. “They had just left the NHS reluctantly because they couldn’t survive. They were going to work in private boarding schools asking for nurses, paying double, with free housing. They were surprised to have double the working hours after 4:30 pm. “There are many other nursing jobs that are so easy.

Truss must make a strategic decision before the winter strikes turn into a crisis. Will it appreciate a struggle with workers who are resisting unprecedented cuts after the last decade of wage stagnation? He mistakenly thinks that the blame will fall on Labor and its support for trade union rights. It would be much wiser to do the same U-turn he did for energy bills. If the government can afford to borrow £ 150 billion, compensating even the wealthy while wasting a fortune on tax cuts for the rich, it can afford to make fair pay deals with public workers. If she wants a Thatcher-like showdown, Tin-Eared Lizzie will find herself on the wrong side of public sympathy. Two-thirds of voters support a nurses’ strike.

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