Workers struggles in Britain

Nurses get huge public support on the picket as they stage second wave of strike action

By Peter Lazenby

NURSES saw huge displays of public support as they staged their second wave of strike action with a 48-hour stoppage at 57 NHS trusts across England today.

Cars honked and supporters joined nurses’ picket lines outside hospitals as the government’s detachment from reality became even clearer over its plans to legislate for “minimum staffing levels” during strikes.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said such levels were not available any day of the week, as the NHS struggles with more than 40,000 unfilled nurse vacancies, growing workloads, more nurses leaving every month in despair, and hospitals forced to open food banks for staff.

RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said that to imagine having minimum staffing levels “is just so far removed from reality, and in fact it is a total insult to our patients and to nurses — it just doesn’t happen.

“You cannot have minimum staffing levels with 47,000 unfilled posts,” she said.

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These strikes could be a paradigm shift

THE current strike wave has caught the government on the hop. It thought public opinion would turn against strikers and it hoped the ballot thresholds might not be reached. It was wrong, has been wrong-footed and is being forced to make some concessions — at least in the form of talks.

There are elements of panic both in ministerial circles and among Tory backbenchers who fear for their seats in the next election. The government’s bid to force workers in key sectors of the economy and public services to provide a “minimum service level” on strike days is a transparent bid to blunt the growing wave of trade union militancy — and it failed, as the massive National Education Union ballot demonstrates.

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The government’s new laws are most likely to be found in breach of its obligations to international treaties and flaunt the minimum standards set by the UN’s International Labour Organisation.

Union action appears to be strengthening public opinion in support of strikers. An average of two to one the public supports specific actions by teachers, railway workers and civil servants.

Support for nurses, ambulance staff firefighters and teachers ranges from half to two-thirds of the public.

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