Strikes in the UK

The UK is about to experience a wave of strikes, starting with the nurses unions.

Tens of thousands of nurses across the United Kingdom are set to walk off the job Thursday in what’s been described as the largest-ever strike by National Health Service workers, who said they were forced to act after the government refused to negotiate over pay amid painfully high inflation.

The walkout represents NHS nurses’ first national strike, and it comes as U.K. rail and postal workers are also taking major labor actions in response to falling real pay, meager benefits, and worsening conditions.

The RCN [Royal College of Nursing] said a strike became inevitable after U.K. ministers declined every offer to start formal pay negotiations. Earlier this week, [Pat] Cullen [general secretary and chief executive of the RCN] met with Tory Health Secretary Steve Barclay in a last-ditch effort to discuss pay before launching the national strike, but he refused to budge.

“I asked several times to discuss pay and each time we returned to the same thing—that there was no extra money on the table, and that they would not be discussing pay with me,” Cullen said. “I needed to come out of this meeting with something serious to show nursing staff why they should not strike this week. Regrettably, they’re not getting an extra penny.”

Jonathan Pie says that all those striking deserve the increases in wages and benefits and job security they are asking for.

On a personal note, I have great fondness for the British nursing profession. I spent a lot of time as a child in UK hospitals and one of the main things that stands out for me in my memory are the nurses. They were briskly efficient but also kind and caring. I would give them anything they asked for.


  1. cartomancer says

    Actually we’ve been living through a wave of strikes since the spring, and it was the Rail Workers’ Union (RMT) that was in the forefront (followed by the Postal Workers’ Union). The nurses are comparatively late to the party, though noteworthy in that there has never been a nurses’ strike in our country’s history.

    I, too, have never known anything but good from NHS nurses. When I had my gallbladder removed earlier this year there wasn’t a thing they wouldn’t do to make me more comfortable. Which gives me some hope -- the NHS is beloved in this country, and any government opposing its workers, particularly the nurses, is not going to come out of this looking good.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    One thing to note about nurses in the UK: they’re not what they were.

    When you were young, Mano, a person -- let’s be honest, a woman -- could become a nurse pretty much straight out of school at sixteen, not even O-levels required. There was training, obviously, but it was on the job, and when a nurse was fully qualified, they were still basically “the help”, acting entirely under the instruction of doctors with very little authority or responsibility of their own, even when relatively senior.

    Nurses today, on the other hand, need a degree to even enter the profession. And when they’re in, their level of responsibility is considerable, even when relatively junior -- administering drugs, for example, which years ago would have absolutely required a “properly qualified” professional to oversee. Nurses in 2022 are functionally equivalent to where junior doctors would have been in e.g. 1972.

    Two and a half years ago all my neighbours were lining up on their doorsteps on a Thursday evening at 7pm to bang pots and clap “for the NHS”. My wife (a nurse) never bothered, finding it a bit much, especially after years of real-terms pay cuts.

    What’s interesting in this wave of strikes is that usually the public, selfish bastards that they usually are, engages in a backlash against the strikers, bemoaning the inconvenience, greed and laziness of the scroungers and their over-powerful unioins. That used to be the script. This time, however, no backlash has been evident. The public actually seems to back the nurses, rail workers and others demanding fair pay. The Tories in government, meanwhile, seem to have accurately assessed that there’s no fucking way they’re winning the next election, so they might as well be as horrible as possible in couple of years they have left before they’re all forced to go and triple their wages working as advisers for hedge funds or whatever the fuck it is scum like that do when they’re not cutting benefits to the working poor or cutting taxes for the rich (i.e. them and their friends).



  3. DonDueed says

    I would give them anything they asked for.

    If they wanted the sky, would you write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high, “To nurse, with love”?

  4. KG says

    U.K. is in a steep economic downturn. Industrial revolution is coming to an end in the country it started. -- Venkataraman Amarnath

    UK manufacturing industry was trashed decades ago, by Thatcher (Germany still has plenty, so this was not the inevitable result of competition from places with cheaper labour). There are still a few bright spots, such as pharmaceuticals and computer games, but mostly, the UK economy depends for exports on services: banking, insurance, higher education… These have been severely affected by the idiocy of a hard Brexit -- we might have got away with leaving the EU as long as we remained in the Single Market and Customs Union -- but of course that would not have satisfied the xenophobes and racists who pushed or voted for Brexit. Returning at least to the Single Market is the only sane course of action -- so naturally, not only the Tories, but also the main opposition party, Labour, are adamantly oppposed to it. I live in Scotland, and am pinning my hopes on independence followed by a swift return to the SM at least, but a recent Supreme Court judgement confirms that the union is not a voluntrary one of equals, as pretended by unionists, but a quasi-colonial relationship in which we can’t leave without permission (in contrast to member states leaving the EU, of course). Our best chance to get out would be a hung Parliament with neither Tories nor Labour able to form a government without SNP* (Scottish National Party) support or at least neutrality, for which their price would be a fresh independence referendum.

    *Incidentally, I’m not an SNP member or supporter, my party is the Scottish Greens, but while we have seats in the Scottish Parliament, which is elected on a reasonably proportional basis, we won’t get any seats at Westminster in the forseeable future.

  5. KG says

    On the main topic of the thread, I fully support all the strikers. But I’m convinced the Tories want them to continue, and are hoping for an opportunity to call a “Who runs the country?” election. I’m hoping they try it, as I think they would lose -and this would clearly be an achievement of the unions, not the feeble and pusillanimous Labour Party of Starmer, which refuses to support the strikers.

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