All across the country, nurses have reached the end of their tether. Yesterday, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) took its first ever day of national strike action, calling its members across the whole country out onto picket lines.
For decades, the NHS has suffered underfunding, top-down restructures, and carve-ups in the name of ‘efficiency’. This has resulted in severe stress for all healthcare workers, including nurses. As one striker explained on the TV, burnout has never been a bigger problem in the NHS than it is today.
These strikes come in the context of the bosses trying to face down a national strike wave. Just recently, Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi outrageously claimed that striking nurses were, in effect, helping Putin!
This mirrors the campaign of smears and scaremongering that has been aimed by the ruling class and their media mouthpieces at strike action in general. It indicates how worried the capitalists and their Tory pals are about the growing industrial militancy that is sweeping across the country.
Taking these factors together, it is no surprise that nurses have finally had enough.
Socialist Appeal members have been visiting pickets all across the country to show our solidarity with these workers. Wherever our comrades have gone, the mood has been remarkably determined.
The potential to unite the struggles, not just in health but across the public sector and the working class at large, has never been greater. Class consciousness is developing by the day, and more and more workers are seeing beyond their workplace conditions to the fundamental problems of capitalism that lie behind them.
The following selection of reports demonstrate the real mood on the ground, and show that nurses – like workers everywhere – are beginning to draw very radical conclusions.
We attended the first picket of RCN workers at Newcastle Hospitals Foundation Trust outside the Royal Victoria Infirmary this morning. There were around 30 people on the picket, which also included members of RMT, GMB, Unite, and UCU in a show of solidarity.
Morale amongst the workers was high, which was to be expected on the first day. This was supplemented by a high degree of public support. Every other car, bus, and ambulance seemed to honk its horn or shout support from its windows.
The reasons for striking were resoundingly given as a demand for improvements to working conditions and patient safety. “If it was only about wages we’d have gone on strike years ago,” one worker said. “15 years ago we’d have 13 nurses for a ward of 10 patients, now we’re lucky to have five or six.”
One particularly class-conscious striker stated that this attack on patient safety, conditions, and safety was sure to continue under a Starmer-led government, and that solidarity and cohesion across layers of striking workers was the best way forward.
Non-striking colleagues appear to be in full support of the nurses. We spoke to a radiologist on his way to work who didn’t know what today’s service would look like, but that the team would “roll with the punches” and fully understood why his nursing colleagues were striking.
Literally every other driver passing North Tyneside’s Rake Lane Hospital this morning was tooting their horn in support of the RCN picket line. Some 20 or so pickets were out in force from before 8am, braving the snow with the assistance of a trolley full of coffee and hot chocolate supplied by the canteen workers.
The mood was great and very enthusiastic. Some of the pickets were actually bouncing up and down, but that may also have been to keep warm!
Talking to strikers it's clear that they’ve been driven to this. As one worker stated: "It’s about time, they can’t treat us like this." There is huge support for the strike, as everyone understands the cost-of-living crisis and sees the need for action.
Two comrades also supported the RCN strike at Hexham hospital in Northumberland, getting a warm welcome. The sizeable group of official pickets was enthusiastic, and mainly young.
Members of Unite, UCU, and FBU were there in solidarity, and many passers-by hooted their horns and waved their support.
The pickets were receptive to talk of the need for fundamental change in the way society is run and grasped the link between their dispute and other workers' struggles. A retired FBU member there in solidarity was scathing about Starmer's "Tory-lite" attitude to strikes.
Meanwhile, a couple of miles away in Cramlington, another 20 or so pickets were at the gates of the Emergency Hospital. They voiced the same sentiments, demanding change.
One veteran trade unionist we met at Cramlington, who led the year-long miners' strike locally in Blyth, made the point that in the past the TUC had coordinated action from other trade unions to support the nurses in struggle. Specifically, he recalled a TUC day of action on 22 September 1983.
The cost of living crisis and the growing number of disputes breaking out over pay and conditions today call for the same tactics. It’s time to unite the struggles, and take the fight to the Tories and the capitalist system they represent.
Members of the RCN went on strike in three Leeds Hospitals, including Leeds General, where comrades from Socialist Appeal joined them.
The nurses’ anger was shown on the picket line, with strikers not only concerned with the much-needed pay rise but the worsening conditions of the NHS. Workers talked about how staffing has been stretched to the limit causing nurses severe stress and making many work overtime.
Nurses also expressed indignation that the hospitals, during the strike, had been staffed by larger numbers of agency workers than there ever are nurses at one time. This was expressed by one nurse who asked: “If they have the money for all these agency workers, why can’t they pay us fairly?”
Nurses on the picket remarked that nursing has not been a militant profession, but conditions have forced them to take action. Some even thought that the RCN leadership had to be persuaded to strike by the militancy of its members.
It is clear that nurses cannot continue to work under such pressure. The further privatisation of the NHS must be continuously fought. The profiteers must be kicked out, along with the full renationalisation of all services, under workers’ control.
Initially on the picket line, there was a fear among nurses that the hostile media would have swayed the public against them. However, with the huge support that turned out from workers, the public, and comrades from Leeds Socialist Appeal, the nurses know they can win this fight.
Two comrades from Cardiff Socialist Appeal attended one of the RCN picket lines at the University Hospital of Wales.
The 35-45 striking nurses were full of fighting spirit, with an energetic mood and a positive atmosphere. The sub-zero temperatures did nothing to dim their determined chants, which continued almost throughout our visit.
As traffic increased throughout the morning, the supportive honks and raised fists of solidarity from passing drivers became a regular hallmark, as did the occasional drop-off of food, biscuits, and hot drinks from supporters.
We spoke to a few nurses and medical staff about their perspectives on the strikes.
Emily, who has been working as a nurse for five years, told us that there were hardly any nurses left due to the low pay. She then added: “I think we’re all just physically and mentally exhausted. Everyday I go in I feel like I’m doing the job of two or three people, and it’s just not right… [we] can’t really go on the way we are.”
Another nurse of seven years concurred and said, regarding the strike: “I think it’s something that we have to do, for the safety of our patients.”
Everyone we spoke to was in agreement that if their demands were not met, then the strike would have to continue next year. Emily put it bluntly: “I feel like our voices need to be heard now and we can’t go on the way we are, so something needs to be done.”
The contradictions within British capitalism are boiling to the surface and becoming obvious for all to see. It's clear there is no way out with a system based on profit over need. It’s time to kick capitalism out of the health service!
In Oxford, there was excellent attendance on the picket line, which was pretty much packed the whole time comrades were there, with nurses seemingly operating in shifts to keep the picket strong.
One nurse we spoke to felt conflicted about patients she wasn't caring for today. However, she and others all stood by their vote to go on strike, because they can see there's basically no choice. One went so far as to say that her choice was very easy because of how dire the situation is, noting that her family all work in health and they all see the need for this strike.
Many nurses said that the Tories are the problem. They argued that action should be directed against the Tories because it's unlikely that they will just give in, since that would mean that they would have to give in to everyone. This shows a distinct class instinct is emerging on these pickets.
Overall, the strike was strong, and the comrades of Oxford Socialist Appeal stand in full solidarity with the nurses!
At St. Thomas’ hospital near Waterloo, the picket reached monster proportions. Hundreds of nurses and their supporters braved the ice and snow from 7am onward, in an amazing show of strength.
The picket became so large that it spilled out onto Westminster Bridge itself. And if the honking of passing cars and buses was anything to go by, the nurses have the support of the wider working class. So strong was the presence there, in fact, that it didn’t finally wind down until 8pm!
Huge support was also present from RMT, CWU, and UCU members, who had taken the time to show solidarity with their fellow strikers. The mood was absolutely determined; the nurses that our comrades spoke to were all in high spirits, as they could see their own strength and wider support graphically demonstrated around them.
Activists from Socialist Appeal also attended the RCN picket line outside St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. As with St. Thomas’ hospital, members from the UCU, the RMT – including general secretary Mick Lynch – and the NEU were standing alongside RCN members.
It was a very chilly morning, but that didn’t deter those who came out in defence of better working conditions for nursing staff. While the dispute is about better pay, those on the picket line made a point of emphasising that this is a fight for the future of the NHS.
RCN members shared in conversation with us the gruesome reality faced by those who work in the NHS. It is clear that healthcare staff are working under very difficult conditions. This impairs their ability to provide patients with the care they need, and translates into poorer health outcomes for all workers in Britain.
While the right-wing gutter press tries to blame striking nurses for the crisis of the NHS, the blame lies squarely with the Tories and the crisis of capitalism. It is the Tories who are seeking to privatise it in order to increase the profits of the capitalists and the bankers – the parasites that they represent.
That’s why we say: Solidarity with the nurses! Defend the NHS! Kick out the profiteers! No to privatisation; yes to public ownership, under the control of the workforce! For free high-quality healthcare funded by expropriating the billionaires!