Grant Shapps is confused.CON
The General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Pat Cullen, has left Tory minister Grant Shapps confused with her demand for a 10% pay rise ahead of next week’s ballot to continue strike action. Shapps, who once boasted ‘I’m so rich my car even has a fridge in it’, told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “Pat Cullen just recently was encouraging her members to accept a pay deal that was put on the table that would see £5,000 go into the pockets this year of hard-working nurses. I thought this was a great settlement, I thought it was terrific that it had been reached. It’s frankly rather confusing now that having encouraged her members to accept that deal, she seems to now be coming back and saying the opposite.”
The deal in question was only worth 5% a year over two years. Pat Cullen did recommend acceptance, but the members rejected it. Shapps thinks leaders should tell people what to do and people should do as they are told. That is the Tory way. Cullen made it clear that she had underestimated the members. It was her job to represent her members’ wishes, and they had made it plain that they wanted a double digit increase this year.
But that is not the whole story. Why did the unions recommend the deal and why did RCN members reject the offer while Unison voted to accept?
It is easy for union officials to become isolated from their members. They are under pressure from employers and the Government to accept a deal. This pressure is compounded by a compliant media. So TV interviewers confront the union leaders with government statements that ‘there is no more money’ to pay the nurses. But they do not challenge the Government on where the money is coming from to fund arms shipments to Ukraine. That would mean pointing out that UK support for the war in Ukraine is being funded by real terms wage cuts in the NHS and elsewhere in the public sector.
NHS Workers Say NO!
Health workers have enjoyed high levels of public support, and the solidarity created on the picket lines strengthened the NHS Workers Say NO! campaign that mobilised the No vote in the RCN. Despite media smears, accusing them of interfering with democracy and calling for a police investigation, the campaign was able to carry on because it was made up of rank and file health workers who were active on the ground in their hospitals.
They talked to fellow workers about the actual nature of the offer, explaining its shortcomings, countering the media pressure to accept the deal and the messages from union leaders that it was the best they could get. They organised themselves using WhatsApp groups that emailed leaflets and posters that were printed out and widely distributed on the ground. One activist described stuffing envelopes for old-fashioned mail shots as well.
This sort of rank and file organisation can strengthen the resolve of union leaders like Pat Cullen and cut across trade union differences to unite workers in struggle. This is why NHS Workers Say NO! is one of the sponsors of How We Fight, How We Win, a rank and file organising conference to be held on June 10th in London to discuss fresh ways to win and add to Grant Shapps’ confusion.
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