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RCN debate on strike action splits nursing opinion

  • 11 Comments

Members of the Royal College of Nursing were divided today over whether they should take future strike action over issues such as wage increases, improved working conditions and to resist attacks on unsocial hours pay, following a wide-ranging debate.

RCN members discussed the possibility of striking in the future, despite a history of the union never having undertaken industrial action.

“Strike action doesn’t mean walking out and leave the patients, it means standing up for nurses”

Andrea Spyropoulos

Members speaking in support of the right to take future strike action said nurses had a duty to patients to advocate for changes that would improve their care.

Some members said despite claims it was not possible to go on strike without risking patient safety, other unions had managed to achieve this and argued the RCN would be able to too.

They pointed to recent strikes by other unions – including the Royal College of Midwives that had never before gone on strike until last year – which unions said demonstrated the severity of issues currently facing NHS workers.

However, those nurses speaking against strike action cited the recent crisis in nursing numbers and low staffing levels as a reason not to take industrial action, suggesting patient safety would be at risk.

Others stressed nurses needed to “pick their battles” with the government, claiming it would be more beneficial to find new and better ways to negotiate, while it was also claimed that the general public would not support a nurse strike.

“Striking goes against the fundamental principles of nursing. How can I justify leaving my ward short-staffed…to strike?”

RCN member from Birmingham

An RCN representative from Birmingham said: “I personally believe that striking goes against the fundamental principles of nursing. How can I justify leaving my ward short-staffed in order for me to go outside and strike? When I don’t believe there’s enough strong evidence to demonstrate it will actually help.”

However, former RCN president Andrea Spyropoulos said: “The term strike strikes fear into the heart of every nurse, but it will also strike fear into the heart of any politician.

“Strike action doesn’t mean walking out and leave the patients, it means standing up for nurses. They [the government] came for your pension, they’re coming for your right to strike and they’re coming for your terms and conditions,” she warned.

Following more than 30 speakers on the issue, Carl Frith from the RCN Greater Glasgow branch who proposed the issue for discussion, concluded: “I don’t want to strike. It goes against everything I feel about caring for patients, but patients are struggling now and we are struggling as a profession.

He urged the RCN to ask all its members on whether strike action should be used in the future, adding: “I feel we are being left behind as a profession due to our reluctance…for strike action.”

 

Matter for discussion

Should nurses in the RCN strike to protect not only ourselves but our patients and the services that they rely on

  • 11 Comments

Readers' comments (11)

  • Correct me if I'm wrong - didn't the threat of strike action force the recent 1% pay rise? Of course it "works".

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  • RCN shouldn't call themselves a union. The rep in Manchester who was with me treated a meeting as her own job interview for a H.R. Post

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  • The RCN congress is a place for middle-class management sycophants to network. Can't upset our political masters ( tugs forelock), might get a gong in the birthday honours.

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  • This is one of the reasons why some of us were members of NUPE or COHSE, then Unison: we regarded taking industrial action, up to and including withdrawal of labour, as potentially necessary.

    And as for this "we can't leave our patients" rubbish which is trotted out as an excuse not to take action, in the early '80s when strike action was taken the hospital I trained at had MORE staff on wards on strike days than normal as the agreed safe staffing minima were HIGHER than what we had to work with usually. Do such agreements not still exist? Or is it too convenient for some of the RCN to pretend they don't?

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  • Laha78

    I always thought I would never strike but this government is pushing nurses to the point of breakdowns due to working in busy, stressed environments where every ward is short staffed, with patient care and safety being compromised EVERY shift and on top of that, they want to cut our unsocial hours. I'm sure if each patient was aware of the predicament our service is in with regards to the staffing situation of nurses, they would back a strike by nurses hands down.

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  • I picked up on the comment in the article which said "while it was also claimed that the general public would not support a nurse strike." This is true, the public never support any strike by any union unless it is in their own interests. The RMT regularly hold London to ransom to get better terms and conditions for tube drivers with effective results. The public dislike them because it is inconvenient to them, but the public objecting is what gets them their demands.

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  • Nursing really needs to pull it's head out of the sand, stop worrying about what other people think of us and do something decisive about pay, conditions and patient safety.

    We're the largest component of the NHS workforce, we should have a much stronger and louder voice.

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  • Redpaddys12 I was at Congress I'm a band 5 staffnurse and it certainly isn't all middle-managers, it's frontline Nurses from HCAs right the way through! The thing we have in common is that we are all part of the nurse family and care passionately about our profession! And as a union we don't support any political "masters" as we are independent of any political party!

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  • Redpaddys12 I was at Congress I'm a band 5 staffnurse and it certainly isn't all middle-managers, it's frontline Nurses from HCAs right the way through! The thing we have in common is that we are all part of the nurse family and care passionately about our profession! And as a union we don't support any political "masters" as we are independent of any political party!

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  • Ann Frith
    Read my quote again. 'Middle-class management sycophants' is not the same as ' middle-managers'.
    You are quite right about that part about the political parties- doesn't matter what party is in power, Red or Blue, the RCN doesn't want to upset either ( although, as a Union, you should join the TUC and support Labour), rather it bends over and gets shafted ( at least Labour uses a bit of lube first).
    The RCN has about as much in common with a true Union ( like the RMT) as I have to David CaMoron, otherwise our pensions wouldn't have been stolen or our enhancements now put in jeopardy to pay for 24/7 NHS.

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