NHS rally, London, 20th December 2022. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

Striking nurses in central London gathered enthusiastic public support while calling for a restored NHS and workers’ unity, reports Orlando Hill

On Tuesday, the public showed their solidarity with nurses who were on strike. It started with a small crowd in front of the University College of London Hospitals (UCLH) near Warren Street in London. Camden teachers were present with their banner with the slogan ‘strength in unity’.  Islington Trade Council and Islington Labour Party also displayed their banners. Nurses brought their children. Motorists hooted their horns as a sign of support. There was a spirit of joy, confidence, and defiance. There was singing with a clear message to Rishi Sunak, “don’t tax us, tax the millionaires”.

After a few speeches on the stairs of the hospital, the crowd marched down Tottenham Court Road on their way to Downing Street. What started as a small crowd quickly grew and managed to block traffic. But nobody seemed bothered. Bus drivers hooted their horns, delivery cyclists raised their fists in the traditional socialist salute, and people gathered along the streets to clap. A group of young men who were out shopping for new trainers joined the march holding placards: “We couldn’t miss this. We had to join. We’ll buy the trainers some other day.” Off they went chanting, “whose NHS? Our NHS!”

After a lot of chanting, “Rishi Sunak, pay us properly and get out”; “we have to shout to get the Tories out”; “what do we want? Fair pay! When do we want it? Now!”, and soaking up the support from the public, the march arrived at Downing Street.

Unity and solidarity

John McDonnell (Labour MP) was there showing his support for the nurses. Ellen Grogan, an RCN activist, made a rousing speech stating that it is the responsibility of nurses to highlight the lack of safety of care for patients and themselves. “We can no longer stand over unsafe conditions, nor can we stand over unsafe care. We refuse to carry the can any longer.” She warned the government not to try the old tactic of divide and rule by talking only to the ambulance drivers. “We are more united than ever. We have all the confidence in our ambulance colleagues that they will do the right thing.”

She went on to explain that the independent pay review body (PRB) is far from independent. It’s a political choice not to pay the nurses and health workers. She sent a message to the government, “nurses are off our knees, and we are at the barricades.” She made it clear what we are fighting for, against privatisation. The government is all embedded in the private health-care service. They have no intention of saving the NHS. “They presided over the slide to rock bottom pay. They presided over the cutting of nurses’ bursaries. They presided over the exit of nurses from Europe. They presided over the deaths of nurses during Covid through their own mismanagement.” Jeremy Hunt has blood on his hands.

How are we going to win? Grogan answered her own question. “We need to get together as a block of trade unions with the public, community hubs, and we need to tell them what kind of society we want.” She ended her speech with a final message to the government, “this is not the government’s NHS. This is not the NHS belonging to any private company. This is the people’s NHS, and we want it back!” The crowd answered with a roar of approval.

Shabbir Lakha, from the People’s Assembly, reminded us that in 10 Downing Street we have one of the richest men in Britain. In number 11, we have Jeremy Hunt, who has done more than anyone else to undermine and destroy the NHS. There are people dying in hospital corridors and ambulances. It’s not the fault of nurses and ambulance drivers. It is the responsibility of the murderers in Downing Street. “We cannot stop until we bring them down. All power to the nurses. All power to the ambulance workers. All power to any health worker who is fighting back. All power to any worker who is fighting back. We need a mass political movement that brings us all together.”

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Orlando Hill

Orlando was born in Brazil and was involved in the successful struggle for democracy in the late 1970s and 80s in that country. He teaches A level Economics. He is a member of the NEU, Counterfire and Stop the War.

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