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A pay rise for MPs but nothing for nurses

In light of the disgusting wage hike for our parliament of millionaires, the #NHSpay15 campaign must be the centrepiece of the labour movement's resistance to the Tories' agenda, writes HELEN O'CONNOR

THE economic divides in our country have once again been exposed by the actions of this Tory government.

The news of the £3,000 pay rise for MPs will provoke tremendous anger among working-class people everywhere but none more so than in the NHS where nurses and other NHS staff have been told that despite all of their sacrifices in fighting Covid-19, they are not worth a fair and necessary wage increase.

But how is all of this anger to be channelled? The only way is through the trade union movement itself. The #NHSpay15 campaign has gained massive attention and support despite the fact that some unions have not yet been prepared to fully back it.

We need to reiterate the very basic point that the government’s attempt to push down nurses’ wages, along with those of other health service workers, is not only demoralising these workers and driving them into poverty – it is a calculated strategy to carry out cuts and privatisation. Nurses are leaving the profession not because of a lack of commitment but because, in increasing numbers, they understand this government is treating them with contempt.

At the beginning of the year nurses were being hailed as heroes but they are being told that badges and kind words from the government is all they deserve.

It is a measure of the absolute corruption in the British political system that members of a parliament which has more millionaires than ever in history are prepared to stuff their pockets while denying low-paid workers, who are responding to a public health emergency, the means of a reasonable existence.

There are a number of demands we need to put on the government regarding pay — but the central demand this year of 15 per cent is the one all trade unionists and the movement should unite around.

This 15 per cent pay demand has come from the grassroots itself and if we are serious about defending our NHS we must be serious about supporting those who keep it running day in and day out. We need to act together in order to win this — and the top priority of trade unions in the health service is to build this campaign. The best way to do this is to make sure the demands of the #NHSpay15 campaign are heard in every hospital ward and unit across the country.

As part of building this campaign the other key commitment for #NHSpay15 activists is to ensure that all of their NHS colleagues, of all occupations and grades, become unionised and organised into a TUC-affiliated trade union like the GMB.

Regular trade union branch meetings will need to be set up in hospitals and other NHS settings and although this is difficult work, vibrant union branches who do the work to engage NHS union members will make the difference when pay is being decided in 2021.

Building trade union membership amongst nurses and NHS workers and encouraging nurses in particular to not just join a union but to become active trade union reps is key to challenging any injustice happening in and around the NHS. We are now in the biggest ever battle for the NHS and the urgent task ahead of us is to build all sides of the labour and trade union movement to defend it properly.

The starting point to protect any public service is to drive up the pay, terms and conditions of its workers via organised, collective trade union activity which is fully supported by those who use the services. The #NHSpay15 campaign can succeed if we maintain our focus and commitment and we unite to do the difficult work necessary to build the campaign further within the NHS.

It is important for all NHS staff to note that if there is money available for wealthy MPs to get pay rises then there is money for them to achieve pay justice for their continuing efforts during this pandemic.

Helen O’Connor is a regional organiser for the GMB.

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