UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Building the fight for fair pay in the NHS

#NHSpay This week has seen UNISON lead the NHS trade unions into industrial action over pay for the first time in 32 year, the first time coincidentally since the year I was born.
    Monday's four hour stoppage by UNISON, Unite, the GMB, and most notably the Royal College of Midwives, saw disruption across the health service. Appointments and operations delayed or rearranged, wards and departments not cleaned, non-striking managers pushing beds around instead of porters. But more importantly perhaps it got huge and mostly supportive media attention and a huge amount of public support, be that people coming and talking to the picket lines, on radio phone-ins or social media.

And for the next four days action short of strike where are members are taking their proper breaks, with a total planned overtime ban in the ambulance sector. For some areas symbolic, for others having as much if not more impact as the full stoppage.

Participation rates will vary across different areas and types of employers, and with perhaps a third of members not being due to be at work when the strike was on due to shift work its pretty difficult to quantify. But strike action in the NHS is different to other sectors, its not about closing everything down and all out. It's about having as much impact as possible but the least harm.

Members I spoke to on the picket lines where boosted by taking this action, and determined to take more action if necessary. And we marched those members back to work with the message to go and talk to your colleagues who didn't come out, not to tell them off but to tell them what a good thing we've done and get them to be with us next time. And for the rest of the week as we've been talking to members about taking their breaks, that's exactly what we've been hearing. Members who have never taking action saying now they regret it and are ready to come out next time.

Other unions are preparing to join us in our struggle, with other unions such as the British Dietetic Association balloting and Chartered Society of Physiotherapy preparing to, and UNISON's Cymru/Wales Region balloting with Northern Ireland region preparing to. Then of course there's the four hour stoppages by the Society of Radiographers on Monday and the Prison Officers Association on Friday, which will allow them to join with us in the future.

So when the Health Service Group Executive meets on Thursday to assess the action and decide on next steps it is possibly the most important in the 20 year history of our union or the 66 years of the NHS. The SGE has already developed outline plans for future action, which will form the basis of the discussion. The SGE will need to consider how we sustain and ramp up pressure on the Government, as well as building and broadening our coalition of support.

So it's vital that we hear from members and branches on key questions like the type/length of action, the timing and the day. We also need to think hard about how we can ramp up the impact of action short of strike, whether we call on particular sectors to take action, such as my own sector Nursing and Midwifery refusing to do non-essential admin such as form filling, audits and box ticking which has become a plague on the profession - and using that time to spend with patients. As well as sector based, can we ask regions and even branches to come up with action short of strike which has the best impact locally?

I sit on the SGE as an NEC member elected to represent health members across the UK and I'm keen to hear from you. On e-mail j.anthony@unison.co.uk or twitter @JamesAnthonyRN

This needs to be an historic battle for the NHS and the staff who work in it, which exposes the Tories' biggest weakness and wins for our members - it's in our hands to do.

James Anthony - NEC member (Health)