Nurses on strike in the UK, an unprecedented social movement

The severity of the social crisis in the UK is leading to walkouts in many sectors that had not been seen for decades. Latest: British nurses will go on strike on December 15 and 20 after “the rejection of negotiations by the government”. The staff voted on November 9 in favor of this unprecedented strike in the history of the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) union, created 106 years ago.

“The nurses are fed up,” said Pat Cullen, the RCN’s general secretary. “Enough of the low salaries, (…) enough of not being able to give patients the care they deserve.”

According to estimates, the real salary of nurses has fallen by 20% since 2010, in particular due to the current crisis in the cost of living, 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, ‘this is a difficult time for everyone’ and the government cannot meet the ‘unaffordable’ demands of the RCN, which ‘represent a 19.2 per cent pay rise’ .

A shortage of staff in hospitals

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,” Ameera, a nurse at a London hospital who voted to strike, told AFP. Nurses oppose the strike, fearing that the mobilization will harm patients.

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 RCN, 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,” the union said. More than 7 million people are waiting for treatment in English hospitals, a record high.

Walkouts in several sectors

But 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.

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In Scotland, teachers were on strike Thursday 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.

Read also: In the United Kingdom, inflation accelerated to 10.1% year on year in September

“The last major strikes date back to the 70s and 80s, but they mainly affected the private sector and industry. There, it is above all the public sector, ”explained to AFP 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 do not see how things can change except by going on strike.”

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