In turn, British nurses announced a strike demanding higher wages due to rampant inflation.


In the UK, inflation is above 11% in at least October.  (Illustrative photo).
In the UK, inflation is above 11% in at least October. (Illustrative photo).

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lBritish nurses will go on strike on 15 and 20 December, an unprecedented move in 106 years, illustrating the severity of the social crisis in the United Kingdom with strikes in many sectors not seen in decades. “Nurses are fed up,” said Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union. “Enough of the low salaries, (…) it’s enough that patients can’t give patients the care they deserve.”

On November 9, the collective voted in favor of this unprecedented strike in RCN’s history, created 106 years ago. This union announced on Friday two days of shares on December 15 and 20 after “refusal of negotiations by the government.” It is estimated that real wages for nurses have fallen by 20% since 2010, in part due to the current cost of living crisis with inflation exceeding 11%. The annual salary of a nursing assistant is 27,000 gross pounds (31,400 euros).

“Unacceptable” requirements

But for Health Secretary Steve Barclay, “this is a difficult time for everyone” and the government is unable to meet the RCN’s “impermissible” demands, which “represent a 19.2% pay rise.” According to NHS Providers, which represents groups of hospitals in England, one in four hospitals have set up food banks to support staff. “We are exhausted. We’re fed up. We need a raise to live,” Amira, a London hospital nurse who voted in favor of the strike, told AFP. The nurses oppose the strike, fearing that the mobilization will harm the patients. But for Amira, who did not want to be named, “this is the British government playing with the health of patients by not raising salaries.” She talks about Covid, about her colleagues who died there. “And why? Just to get the government and the whole world to applaud us?”

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This strike comes at a time when the public health system (NHS), which had been underfunded for years, was plunged into a major crisis. The government has announced a £3.3bn increase in the NHS budget next year and the year after. In England, 47,000 nursing positions remain unfilled, according to RCN. Last year, 25,000 public nurses or midwives slammed the door. “Low wages are contributing to a shortage of staff across the UK, which affects patient safety,” the union said. More than 7 million people are waiting for treatment in English hospitals, which is a record figure.

Lawyers, postmen, teachers…

But the social movement is not only hitting the healthcare sector. Many other public and private sector workers, from lawyers to airport ground staff, have also gone on strike this year. In Scotland on Thursday, teachers went on strike demanding a raise. University staff also stopped working on Thursday and Friday, and about 2.5 million students were affected by the move. Postal workers have extended their strike until 2023, which could affect the delivery of mail and parcels during the holiday season. Transport will also suffer. The London Underground was paralyzed by a very popular traffic on 10 November. The railroad announced several days of action until the end of the year and the first week of January. Officials also announced a social movement.

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“The last major strikes date back to the 70s and 80s, but they mainly affected the private sector and industry. It’s primarily the public sector there,” Pippa Catterall, a professor of history at the University of Westminster and a striker herself, told AFP. “People have been under pressure for a long time. It’s not just about pay, it’s about workload. (…) We do not see how anything can change, except to go on strike,” she continued. And with record inflation, “people are increasingly annoyed by the cosmetic measures announced by employers and the government.”