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'Beware politicians who push conflict to drive their ideology'


After last week’s mass day of action, Tom Bolger looks at what happens next for nurses

The day of action last Wednesday saw 2.2 million public sector workers take industrial action in protest at the government’s proposed changes to their pensions.

Nurses, physiotherapists, teachers and civil servants were all stereotyped by ministers as militants looking for a fight, accused of jeopardising the economy by taking action and of greed for wanting to hang on to unearned gold-plated pensions.
What the day of action showed was that there is a great deal of anger and a sense of injustice over the way public sector workers have been picked on.

And who can blame these workers? The government is asking this predominantly female workforce to work longer, pay more and get less.

An experienced ward sister in mid-career now will be expected to carry on working until she is 67, pay an additional £318 a year in pension contributions and receive an annual cut in her pension of more that £9,000 a year.

This at a time when the top 1% of earners in the UK had average increases of 49% in their pay and other remuneration in the last year.

“I would not put it beyond George Osborne and David Cameron to try to create continuing conflict to undermine public confidence in the NHS to help them in their drive to gradually bring in a US insurance-based private-sector-led health service”

Then, to continue the bullying from the coalition government, the chancellor has announced a 1% pay cap on any rises in the next two years, following directly after a two-year pay freeze. This is way below the rate of inflation and busting through any notion of pay review bodies advising on what is fair.

It doesn’t feel like we are all in it together. It feels as if nurses are being blamed for the mess that bankers and politicians have made of our economy. No wonder people are angry.

After the marches and rallies, what happens next for nurses? There has been a difference of opinion between the big general trade unions and the Royal College of Nursing about the best way forward.

The RCN felt strongly that any consideration of industrial action should wait until the 31 December deadline for agreement has come and gone. RCN members were at protests and chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter spoke at the London rally - but they didn’t take industrial action.

RCN council is meeting on 10 January and is poised to press the button on a ballot for action if no agreement is reached.
There is some nervousness at the top about the turnout and fear that, if this is low, it will undermine the case for action. This will put added pressure on the negotiators to come up with a deal. Surely this is achievable.

As I see it, the only thing that can get in the way of common sense is political ideology. I would not put it beyond George Osborne and David Cameron to try to create continuing conflict to undermine public confidence in the NHS to help them in their drive to gradually bring in a US insurance-based private-sector-led health service.

Now that is a real nightmare scenario and I would remind any RCN members and decision-makers reading this that, if it does come to a ballot, the opportunity to vote is the democracy in action - turnout is a minor issue.

Failure to participate is by itself part of the process and gives assent to the outcome whichever way it goes.

To the government I would say - remember at least 2.2 million votes are at risk at the next election if you screw
this up.

And, to those who don’t participate, I would remind you of something Desmond Tutu once said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Tom Bolger is health and social care consultant and former RCN assistant general secretary


Readers' comments (5)

  • First of all I wish we'd get away from this 'predominntly female' tag, we blokes may have fewer numbers but there are enough of us, and we can be just as poorly done by in the public services!

    As for what happens next, we can safely discount any serious help, support or action from the RCN, they are all talk. They are also wrong. If they ballot for action I will eat my words, but even if they do, it will be too little too late. They should have stood side by side with theother unions who went on strike to protest against the fact the government were not negotiating at all and had stated at the beginning of the talks 'this is how it is going to happen, accept it'.

    As for the issue of turnout, I think that is a non issue really, I can't remember the exact numbers who voted in this strike, but wasn't it something like 80 - 90% of 30% of members voted in favour? If a government got those numbers in a general election they'd be ecstatic! They have certainly claimed victory for themselves on considerably less, so it is a bit of a double standard trying to raise that as an issue for them.

    I think the government will almost certainly continue with the dirty tactics they are so good at, but so what? They want a fight, we can certainly give them one. If that labels me as a militant or ready for a fight, quite frankly I don't care. I don't want to strike at all, I wish it didn't have to come down to this, but given the sheer attack on our profession, then I think we SHOULD be seen as ready to fight!

    The recent strike was simply one day of action. It wa a warning shot across the governments bow that SCARED them enough to first of all use the dirty tactics they have done, and more importantly start throwing offers on the table again. It was the first battle in what I can imagine will be a long war, and we won. Nurses now have no excuse for saying strike action will not work and is unfeasable for our profession. This day of action proved that to be false. Now it is time to push that advantage. If we have not reached a deal that is FAIR to ALL public sector workers then we MUST strike again, but strike for as long as WE deem necessary this time. The government knew they could ride out one day, they will buckle when they face a country with no health care, no education, no public services, for a sustained period. We are TOO important. TOO essential. And they know it.

    But remember it should not just be pensions that we fight for now, we have to fight for our pay levels that is once again being cut despite already being ridiculously low, we must fight for our working conditions, we must fight for safe staffing levels, and so many more things. Healthcare is too important in society to be decimated like this, the Nursing profession is too vital to be decimated in this way. FIGHT FOR IT!!!

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  • I agree that we need to widen the battle issues:
    * pensions are central
    * AfC must be kept
    * Pay rises are an issue of concern
    * Job cuts must be resisted
    * Bed cuts cannot be tolerated.


    Mais oui, mes braves...

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  • I think that the RCN are even considering a ballot is good news and certainly more than i expected from them. It is indeed very important that all members use their vote. No good whinging and then doing nothing.
    I also agree that Cameron is being very agressive in his language and actions to try and persuade the public that we are evil.
    Time for our nursing leaders to be speaking to the media on our behalf, it needs to be loud and clear!

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  • Sarah, the RCN sat on the fence and only announced they would CONSIDER one (not a guarantee remember, they have backed down from what they have said many times before) after many members of UNISON voted to strike. They are absolutely spineless and often actively work against us. They should be ashamed.

    I absolutely agree however that Cameron is being very aggressive, and then blaming us for spoiling for a fight in the next breath! Rank hypocrisy at it's best!

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  • Something should have been done about pensions over a decade ago but nobody and I include the unions had the bottle to identify the problem and come up with solutions.

    As for the government, recently read a politian whinging that he did not see why his platinum plated pension should be reviewed as he was 'payed sweeties' and had already lost out on expenses (didn't know they were part of his renumeration!)

    If they want to do the right thing then lets see them sort out their pensions in line with ours and take the freeze and pay restrictions before battering ours. Would be nice to do 4 years work , get a golden handshake and a pension and all for a measly (£64,766 plus expenses, including £24,222pa for their second home)

    They need to get a grip and get in touch with the real workers in both public and private sectors!

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