Opinion: Strikes are a cry for help from the impossibly pressed

The present strikes in health care, transport, and other sectors, did not materialise out of nowhere. Nor are they a manifestation of greed, writes Labour Group leader Shaz Nawaz.
Doddington Hospital nurses on the picket line last monthDoddington Hospital nurses on the picket line last month
Doddington Hospital nurses on the picket line last month

We have a situation in which prices are rising faster than wages; people who have worked hard through the darkest days of the pandemic are merely asking for a pay rise that arrests the decline in their ability to pay their bills.

The government apparently had £30 billion for Liz Truss’ failed economic experiment; they seem less willing to fund this. Worse, there are new laws being unveiled to prevent strikes in the first place. This comes from an outdated perception of what these strikes are about: history’s broad-brush strokes are often remembered without the benefit of detail.

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The Tories would like to scare everyone with recollections of the “Winter of Discontent” in 1979, when “the dead were left unburied” and rubbish went uncollected.

Time moves on, and so do circumstances. Today’s nurses are frequently finding that they must resort to food banks to make ends meet. Energy prices have risen by outrageous levels and have not moderated despite wholesale costs coming down.

Strikes are a cry for help from the impossibly pressed; the government would rather tell them to suck it up.

They would rather put in new laws to prevent them from taking meaningful action.

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It’s not fashionable to speak in praise of the trade unions, but we should remember that many of our rights, from having a weekend to sick leave didn’t fall from the sky. These rights came from people in factories and workplaces organising themselves and demanding these changes.

Trade unions were there to ensure that their members were not treated unfairly; collective action is more effective than one that can be taken by an individual. We benefit from the victories they won to this day. We benefit from the trade unions coalescing to create the Labour Party, which created the NHS, which was the real reason we were able to respond to the pandemic so effectively.

I doubt the government trying to ban strikes will be effective. There is something deeply wrong when a nurse can’t earn enough to avoid penury. However, the government apparently doesn’t want to acknowledge this, they would rather tell us to collectively tighten our belts, which is easy for people who can afford rises in the cost of living to say.

If the government carries on this way, I suspect that strikes will still happen, official or not.

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Then what will they do? No one wants to strike unless they have to especially nurses. What happens to the treatment of individuals who have already lingered too long on waiting lists?

What happens to emergency care? Given this, we know where this will land eventually: back at the negotiating table. It would be preferable if we got there sooner rather than later, acknowledged the valuable role that the strikers play in our economy and society, and recognised that it’s not unreasonable for a working person to want to be able to pay their bills via their work.

When the government does that, maybe we’ll make some progress.