Last month Socialist Review reported that NHS workers would be back out on strike in January and February. As we went to press all the unions involved had called off the action following negotiations. Unite and Unison officials are claiming that the offer is the best they could achieve.
But the offer of a 1 percent consolidated pay rise next year, with £200 for people who earn up to £17,425, is derisory. It does nothing to make up for years of pay freezes and real terms pay cuts. The health strikes have had a massive political impact, putting the Tories under pressure during the run-up to the general election campaign.
But the leadership of the Labour Party has been putting pressure on union leaders to shut down action and get behind the general election campaign. The new proposals, if accepted, would be politically convenient for Labour, as they would decrease the likelihood of unions having a dispute with a possible future Labour government. Although Labour has pledged to scrap the ConDems’ Health and Social Care Act and recruit more staff, it is not going to reverse all the Tory health cuts, and will stick to Tory pay limits.
The health strikes have shown what the real alternative to austerity is — workers fighting back collectively to defend services and their living standards and refusing to pay for the bosses’ crisis. Health workers must now campaign hard to get a No vote in the ballots over the latest offer, and get the strikes back on.
But the union leaders’ retreat also underlines the importance of building a real electoral alternative to Labour and the Tories. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) will be standing socialist anti-austerity candidates in 100 parliamentary seats. Socialists need to fight to win votes for candidates who will stop the attacks on our NHS.