British nurses will go on strike on December 15 and 20, an unprecedented movement in 106 years, illustrating the seriousness of the social crisis in the United Kingdom with walkouts in many sectors which had not been seen for decades. “The nurses have had enough”summarized Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) union. “Enough of low salaries, (…) enough of not being able to give patients the care they deserve”.
The staff had voted on November 9 in favor of this unprecedented strike in the history of the RCN, created 106 years ago. This union announced Friday, November 25 two days of action of December 15 and 20 after “rejection of negotiations on the part of the government”. According to estimates, the real salary of nurses has fallen by 20% since 2010, in particular due to the current cost of living crisis, with inflation exceeding 11%. The annual salary of a junior nurse is 27,000 gross pounds (31,400 euros).
But for Health Minister Steve Barclay, “It’s a difficult time for everyone” and the government cannot meet the demands « inabordables » of the RCN, which “represent a salary increase of 19.2%”.
Seven million people await treatment
One in four hospitals have set up food banks to support staff, according to NHS Providers, which represents hospital groups in England. “We are exhausted. We are fed up. We need a raise to live.”told Agence France-Presse Ameera, a nurse in a London hospital who voted to strike.
Nurses oppose the strike, fearing that the mobilization will harm patients. But for Ameera, who declined to be named, “It’s the British government that plays with the health of patients by not increasing salaries”. She tells about the Covid-19, her colleagues who lost their lives there. ” And why ? Just to get the government and the world to applaud us” ?
This strike comes as the public health system (NHS), underfunded for years, is plunged into a serious crisis. The government has announced an increase in the NHS budget of £3.3billion next year and the year after.
According to the Royal College of Nurses in England, 47,000 nursing positions are unfilled. Last year, 25,000 nurses or midwives who worked in the public slammed the door. “Poor pay contributes to staff shortages across the UK, which affects patient safety”denounces the union.
More than 7 million people are waiting for treatment in English hospitals, a record high.
Lawyers, postal workers, teachers…
The social movement does not only hit the health sector. Many other public and private sector employees, from lawyers to airport ground staff, have also gone on strike this year. In Scotland, teachers were on strike Thursday, November 24 to demand increases. University employees also stopped working Thursday and Friday, a movement that affected around 2.5 million students.
Postal workers have extended their strike until 2023, which could affect the delivery of mail and parcels during the holiday season. Transport is also affected. The London Underground was paralyzed by a very popular movement on November 10. Railway workers have announced several days of action between now and the end of the year and the first week of January. Officials have also announced a social movement.
“The last major strikes date back to the 1970s and 1980s, but they mainly affected the private sector and industry. There, it is mainly the public sector”explained to Agence France-Presse Pippa Catterall, professor of history at the University of Westminster, herself a striker. “People have been under pressure for a long time. It’s not just the salaries, but also the workload. We don’t see how things can change except by going on strike.”she continued.
And with record inflation, “people are increasingly irritated by the cosmetic measures announced by employers and the government”.