NHS & Care workers send powerful message for 15% pay rise

“Claps don’t pay our bills” and “Nurses are for life, not just for pandemics” were amongst some of the slogans on homemade placards at the 250 strong demonstration of NHS & care workers fighting for a pay rise. This turnout would have been even bigger if it weren’t for the local lockdowns imposed on some parts of West Yorkshire and the recent spikes of Covid in a few areas in Leeds.

Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party

Many on the demonstration were fresh layers, including some who booked an hours annual leave in their working day to come out from the hospital across the road from the square the rally took place in.¬†Many NHS workers who spoke talked in moving ways about the difficult situations they’d faced during lockdown.

The demonstration was marked by the absence of trade unions who represent these workers, apart from a few activists and representatives of local trades councils, such as Leeds TUC who organised stewarding for the demo. Unison, the largest public sector union, even went as far as advising branches against attending.

This lack of a lead from many sections of the trade unions also found its way into the protest via the speech of Paul Holmes, who some on the left, including the Socialist Workers Party, are supporting in the Unison General Secretary election. Whilst full of bombast about how NHS workers deserved a pay rise, there wasn’t a single suggestion of how to take the campaign forward to acheive this, which is inexcusable for someone aiming to lead the biggest NHS union, with around half a million members in the NHS.

Fortunately, a lead was given, both by the organisers, Anthony and Gem, who repeatedly encouraged NHS workers to join a union, and become active in it fighting for the 15% pay rise demand and also encouraged to leave their details to organise further, but also by Socialist Party members who spoke at the demo.

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Socialist Party member Adrian O’Malley addressing NHS pay rise demonstration – photo Iain Dalton

Tanis Belsham-Wray, Leeds Socialist Party member and Secretary of Leeds TUC, echoed the organisers call for people to join their union and become active in it, whilst Adrian O’Malley from Wakefield branch and Unison secretary at Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust pointed out how the trade unions should have had stalls at the demonstration to sign people up, as well as saying “we’ve got the join the unions, change them and say… either fight for us, or get out of our way.”

Alex Brown, from Sheffield Socialist Party, and Branch Secretary of the PCS NHS Digital branch based in Leeds, gave the most impressive speech of the demonstration. He raised how trade union activists and communities have come together to in campaigns to save the Glenfield Heart Unit in Leceister and the walk-in centre in Sheffield, both campaigns where the Socialist Party played a leading role, and that the same approach should be used to build support for any necessary industrial action to win a pay rise given the huge public sympathy for NHS workers during the pandemic.

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Socialist Party stall at the NHS Pay rise demonstration – photo Iain Dalton

The raucous reception Alex’s speech got, was reflected in the interest in the ideas Socialist Party members found with almost every attendee taking a copy of our leaflets, and 25 copies of the Socialist sold, including one for a tenner and many others at ¬£2 solidarity price.

The task now is to build on the enthusiasm from this demonstration and the 35+ others around the country into a movement that can force a substantial pay concession as health workers in France have recently won.

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