“It’s time we came out in our millions” – interview with striking NHS workerOctober 16, 2014
At the NHS picket line on Monday morning (13/10/14) the UCLU Marxists went down to join the workers on strike. In our meeting the previous week we raised over £20 in donations which we used to buy hot drinks and snacks for the striking pickets to show our solidarity, as well as leafleting widely for the strike on campus. On the picket line we interviewed Lucy Tanham, Unite member and one of the many striking NHS HR workers at University College Hospital.
UCLU Marxists: Thank you for speaking with us Lucy. Why are you coming out and striking today? What’s the most important thing about the strike?
Lucy: We’re coming out on strike to support our members in getting fair pay. We’ve already had our pay frozen, most departments have been restructured which means most people have been moved down a pay-band, and the cost of living has gone up. I mean, people just cannot afford to live properly as we should be, in a “non-third world” country.
UCLU Marxists: And what’s the mood been like in the build up? Have people been talking about it?
Lucy: Yes, people have been talking about it. My managers have been talking about it. It’s interesting that they’re quite supportive of us going out to strike on their behalf, to also get them improved pay. None of them are here today but you know, hey ho. (chuckles)
UCLU Marxists: The government is freezing most health workers’ pay and giving a very small amount of workers a 1% rise. The cost of living has gone up much more than that. What has it been like for you over the last couple of years? Have you noticed a difference in your pay coming home?
Lucy: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely we’ve noticed the difference. And, you know, all the other things the government has put into practice; working tax credit, family tax credit, pay, and genuinely getting nothing back. Absolutely nothing back and having everything taken away. It’s been really hard, really tough. You know? There’s nothing left out of the wages for life.
UCLU Marxists: And that’s what you need. In order to relax after a very stressful job like this.
Lucy: Oh absolutely. With a very stressful job like this, come any weather, we’re here, and were doing it, and a lot of us have children. We still work full time trying to bring the money in and to make sure that they have a decent life, you know? We’re trying to do it for them, really, and yet, it’s becoming harder and harder and harder and you become more despondent and it can be very depressing at times, you know?
UCLU Marxists: I think the government for the first time ever this year ignored the independent pay review and imposed their own austerity on the health service and they ignored the proposal that a 1% rise should be for everyone. At the same time the MPs have given themselves a 10% pay rise this year. What do you think about that?
Lucy: Well you know, the argument has been that they haven’t had a pay rise for ages and they’re patting themselves on the back for a job well done. I would say it’s not a job well done across the board. We’re not just talking about the Tories or the Liberals, we’re talking about Labour as well. Across the board, it’s really discouraging that we have a government that we cannot trust giving themselves a 10-11% pay rise. A 1% pay rise isn’t a pay rise. It’s a pay cut! There is no pay rise at all. And it’s just… who do you trust? Who do you trust? We have no choice but to bring somebody in, and they know that, they know that. I can see things getting a bit more vocal and possibly physical if things don’t change. Soon.
UCLU Marxists: Really? Physical?
Lucy: Yeah. I think so.
UCLU Marxists: How do you mean?
Lucy: I think that people are going to start protesting in a different way.
UCLU Marxists: People are fed up?
Lucy: Yeah. I think people are fed up. I think they’ve had enough.
UCLU Marxists: I mean, today you’ve seen not just Unison but Unite coming out, you’re part of Unite yourself, and there’s a series of strikes across the country in the next couple of days, and on the weekend there’s the TUC demonstration. What do you think about that, as the way forward? Not just individual strikes but everyone coming out together?
Lucy: I understand individual strikes, because sometimes a specific department or organization wants to tell their bosses, that they’re not happy, but I’m actually more of a fan of massive general strikes where everybody comes out. I think it shows a lot more power. I think it shuts the system down. I think it speaks volumes.
Many times when I was a child I was out on rallies with my dad, and everyone came out in force. When the nurses went on strike years and years ago, Hyde Park was absolutely mobbed. Everybody was out, and it showed the world that the English, the British, wouldn’t take it. And yet, we are now, you know? We’re taking it, basically, we’re too scared now to really… you know, the French do it. They come out in bloody millions. It’s time that we did. I’d be up for it, definitely, and I’d bring my kids out, and I think we need to stand up and stop this sort of thing, in my mind, this sort of…it’s a little bit, too little.
UCLU Marxists: We need to escalate action together.
Lucy: Yeah. Nobody wants aggression, but we need to do something a bit more powerful. A bit more wake-up-and-listen and, you know, look at all these people here, united in trying to get a fair pay, fair conditions.
UCLU Marxists: Last of all, it’s quite significant that for the first time ever, the midwives have come out on strike. I guess you must speak to a few of them during the course of your working day. What do you make of that? The fact that for the first time in a very precious job like midwives, generally health workers are told, if you go on strike, people suffer, so you can never go on strike, what’s your opinion on that?
Lucy: I think it’s so important that they come out, and I’m really pleased that they have. This country is screaming, crying out for midwives. There was a massive ad campaign a couple of years ago because we had a massive shortage and now we’ve got them coming out on strike because you’re not paying them fairly. I mean, it says a lot. And we have possibly hiring staff from other countries who may not be trained the same, who may not have the same view or ideals that we have but still have to go through training here. It’s a cost. We have homegrown people who could possibly believe in the country that go and work elsewhere, paid for. It’s absolutely disgusting. I’m fully in support of all health care workers coming out to fight for their rights, because they do save lives. They save lives. So, that’s why we’re here.
UCLU Marxists: Fantastic. Thank you very much Lucy.