union leaders suspend ambulance strike in UK

[Crédits photo : Reuters. Ambulanciers sur un piquet lors de la journée du 21/12]

Two 24-hour strike days were pre-planned for December 21 and 28 in a country where current anti-social laws require workers to be consulted before exercising their right to strike.

The GMB union announced last Friday the cancellation of the strike planned for December 28, despite the success of the day on December 21, which mobilized emergency personnel (ambulance personnel, technicians, call managers, etc.) in almost all the regional services in England and Wales. Like many others, ambulance service workers mobilized for pay, in the face of a government that still refuses to raise them in a context of galloping inflation. The strike also followed two other historic days of action on 15 and 20 December in the health sector.

Not a day has gone by since the beginning of December without at least one sector of the working world going on strike in the UK. In total, more than 1.5 million workers will strike to demand wage increases. The health sector strikes are part of a wave of anti-inflation strikes that started this summer and are now gaining momentum amid a veritable “winter of discontent” affecting many sectors. A mobilization of magnitude that affects the public as well as the private sector.

The December 21 strike was particularly successful: thousands of ambulance workers walked off the job last Wednesday after 10,000 of them voted to strike.

Nursing staff expressed their anger at the deterioration of the NHS by not only demanding pay rises but also by mobilizing against the deep crisis in the public hospital which is hitting them hard. After years of budget cuts and neoliberal management, British hospitals are facing a staff shortage with 47,000 nursing posts unfilled.

Also at a strike by ambulance services in central England, strikers rallied behind a banner denouncing an “NHS under siege”.

In Brighton, strikers carried signs reading “Too exhausted to treat”, and a trade unionist testified: “We are mobilizing against the government’s budget cuts to our service, which prevent us from delivering care properly. Our patients suffer day after day and people are tired of it. »

Faced with the conservative government led by Rishi Sunak, which has not budged an inch, the call to suspend the strike is a real step backwards. This one is actually on the offensive and wants to be intransigent in relation to the demands by rejecting any salary increase. Last Wednesday, Health Secretary Steve Barclay signed an op-ed in the Daily Telegraph claiming that “The ambulance associations have deliberately chosen to harm the patients”.

It was in the face of this anti-strike rhetoric that the GMB leadership relented and canceled the second day of strikes planned for Wednesday and instead called for a new date of January 11, so the people who supported the strikers could “enjoy the holiday without further anxiety”. In fact, the strike was called off without the slightest concession from the government, the union’s national secretary even said. Guardian that any proposal for wage increases could resolve the conflict, including increases that would not necessarily match inflation.

The union leaders justify the cancellation of the strike with “the incredible support of public opinion for paramedics and ambulance staff”. Contrary to this logic, we should rely on this massive support to amplify the movement. Several opinion polls show that the strikes are supported by the majority. Added to this support is a growing distrust of the Conservative government in an unstable political situation and a growing climate of discontent. A large proportion of British workers and the public believe that the government is responsible and “mishandling” the current situation. “The money, they find it for the banks! They find it for their friends!” exclaimed a nurse testifying at the microphone from France info.

In recent days, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also come under fire for a scene filmed before Christmas during a meal distribution where he asks a homeless man if he “works in business”, when he replies that he will already manage to make it through Christmas . , which shows in all its glory the gulf between British politicians above ground and the population struggling with inflation.

The anger is there, and if there’s one thing British workers have demonstrated in recent weeks, it’s their determination. The level of mobilization is such today that it raises the specter of a general strike in a country that has known the breakdown of strikes and the neoliberal brutality of the Thatcher era.

Indeed, the decision by UK union leaders in the GMB is in line with the spread and splitting of dates which characterizes the current cross-Channel mobilisation. In the health sector alone, nurses went on strike on 15 and 20 December, while ambulance workers went on strike on 21 and 28 December. In January, nurses were called to strike on 18 and 19 December respectively, and 11. ambulance staff.

The strike calendar has each sector mobilizing one after the other on separate dates and in staggered order. This week, the dates for mobilization in rail transport are from the 26th to the 29th, while the bus workers are called to strike on the 27th and 31st and this follows days of strike action by postal workers on the 23rd and 24th last week. On December 28, airport staff were on strike.

This desynchronization organized by the British trade union bureaucracies is a real dead end for the movement. On the contrary, only nationally co-ordinated action and a united battle plan can give the British working class a chance of victory over the bosses and against a government which is threatening to introduce new laws to restrict the right to strike and which has talked of mobilizing the army. to break the strikes and replace the strikers.

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