Pic: CC BY-NC 2.0 bit.ly/fp-nhs
Following the government's 3% award to NHS workers, all the health unions will be running informal consultations of their members over the next month.
The award falls way below the claims of each union, Unison £2,000, RCN 12%, GMB and Unite 15%, and the current RPI rate of inflation, 3.9%, making it yet another real-terms pay cut. The fact that the government has met the Pay Review Body recommendation only shows how inadequate that body is.
All the unions have condemned the award. Unison, the largest health trade union, will be asking members if they accept the award or reject it and are prepared to take action up to and including strike action. GMB will be consulting members with a reject recommendation.
The RCN has said it will consult on what action members are prepared to take, although the "what next" document they issued last month talked of a three-step process with an initial consultation on the award before seeking members' views on action.
Activists are organising for these consultations to see high turn-outs, overwhelming rejections of the award, and strong support for action. Our focus should be ensure that our union branches take the campaign seriously. Local unions should be running meetings, walk-abouts, and stalls in workplaces, and issuing publicity making the case for action.
New reps or campaign contacts should be recruited in every workplace. Activists can organise protests, and leafleting sessions to raise the profile of the campaign. The next steps to formal ballots need to be taken with the momentum that can come from big turn-outs in the informal consultations.
That some of the unions, including Unison, are consulting without a "reject" recommendation is disappointing. With the current pressure on the NHS and the demands of the last year, workers are stressed and exhausted. They need a clear message that their trade unions are prepared to lead a fight on pay and that a campaign of action will be pursued to win.
We need to get that message coming out clearly from branches and the Unison National Executive Committee, and mount pressure for a reject recommendation in the formal ballot.
The Health Service Journal says that “senior union sources have suggested to HSJ that although there will be significant noise around the [3%] offer, the larger health unions are unlikely to put up major resistance”. That judgement will be proved wrong only by pressure from the base.
Members' control over any action will be key. Cross-union networks need to be built in the course of this campaigning. Activists should be raising issues of workers' control of emergency cover, disaggregated ballots, solidarity action and strike funds now so that we are equipped to discuss these issues with members and organise effective formal ballots and effective action.