Last Wednesday marked a moment in history, as public sector workers took part in what was billed as the largest “union mobilisation” for more than 30 years and NHS nurses joined a national strike for the first time. Charlotte Santry and James Clayton visited marchers and those on the picket lines in London.
The whistles, circling helicopters and chants for Chancellor George Osborne to “get on yer bike” could be heard even above the piped classical music in the bowels of Charing Cross station.
Emerging into the drizzle, Nursing Times spied a procession of Royal College of Nursing banners, just beyond a group of Occupy London members dancing languidly in a circle. One of the marchers, RCN regional officer Clive Simmons, said around 40 to 50 members were on the main London rally. “We didn’t ballot but we wanted to show a strength of feeling about the pensions,” he said.
Turning onto the Embankment, a teacher dressed head-to-toe in tweed and corduroy walked along with a sign saying: “On strike with regret”. Podiatrists, radiographers and local government workers were also out in force, holding hand-made posters with messages like “Gandalph wouldn’t let this pass” and “Eton mess”.
By the river, the British Medical Association had taken to the stage, decrying the fact that “cutting pensions is cutting deferred pay”. The BMA like the RCN and the Royal College of Midwives did not hold a ballot but encouraged members to show support for strikers from fellow healthcare unions Unison, Unite and the GMB – some choosing to join picket lines and rallies during their breaks.
A woman standing nearby with a Managers in Partnership flag had come from a picket outside NHS London’s offices. She laughed off claims circulating on Twitter that there had been “tensions” between picketers and passers-by. “People were bringing us cake,” she said.
Meanwhile, on the picket outside St Thomas’ Hospital, student nurse Mark Boothroyd told us: “This is just the beginning.
“The raising of the retirement age is going to mean that our colleagues are forced to carry on longer in jobs they’re not physically fit enough to do,” he said.
Midwife Clare Fletcher added: “I am striking because as a midwife my role is to look after women and these pensions cuts adversely affect women.
“Women have babies and are more likely to work part time so changing from a final salary to a career average will have a massive impact on women, and there’s no way we can make up the lost years.”
Asked whether it was right for nurses to take part in the strike, student nurse Heather Lewis said: “Absolutely. The same as any other public sector worker they have the right to strike and stand up for the services they offer to patients.
“I think it’s difficult for a lot of nurses who think that they shouldn’t strike and put patients in danger, but if it’s organised properly then there should be emergency cover and it should be okay.”
Standing outside St Mary’s Hospital, student nurse Emma Clossick said: “I think it’s unfair for public sector workers to take the brunt of the government’s cuts. We wanted to show solidarity on a day when workers across the public sector are coming out and protesting.”