As the Tories refuse a pay rise for NHS staff, health workers around the country take to the streets to demand fair treatment.
Over a thousand people marched (socially distanced) through London today demanding that all NHS staff receive a pay rise, considering the sacrifices they made during the pandemic and the pay freeze they suffered under austerity.
The protest started outside the Guard’s Memorial in St James’ Park, where the crowd chanted ‘Keep our NHS alive’ and ‘Pay rise now’.
The protest moved to Trafalgar Square before marching down Whitehall, stopping outside Downing Street, and then finishing in Parliament Square. The atmosphere got more energetic as the march progressed, and there was a strong sense of anger at the government’s treatment of NHS staff, especially nurses, porters, cleaners and other underpaid and underappreciated workers.
This anger was most evident outside Downing Street, where there were chants of ‘You clapped us, you slapped us, now pay us.’
Within the crowd there were many NHS workers, many of whom were from St Thomas’ hospital where Boris Johnson was treated. In Parliament Square, several NHS workers made speeches, calling out the government’s exclusion of low-paid NHS workers from the public sector pay rise and the continual underpayment of NHS staff during the years of austerity where there was a seven-year pay freeze.
Speakers pointed out that they had experience a 20% pay cut in real terms over the last decade and talked about the challenge of having 40,000 nursing vacancies and the pressure that has put on them. One speaker also pointed out how poor the unions had been, presiding over the government’s pay cuts and the privatisation of the NHS, and called for a strike within the NHS, to demand a 15% pay rise.
In Manchester, the demonstration was held in Piccadilly Gardens. The format was changed to a static and well-observed socially distant one after the announcement of new local lockdown measures. There were around 120 in attendance, including a high proportion of NHS workers as well as many left groups showing support and solidarity.
NHS staff stood with placards reading slogans such as ‘Fill the purses of the nurses’ and ‘Clapping doesn’t pay the rent’, which demonstrated their frustration and anger towards the government’s cynical approach of rewarding their heroic efforts throughout the pandemic with nothing more than empty gestures in front of TV cameras.
There were some powerful speeches from a wide range of attendees. An early speaker asked for their audience to take a knee and chants of ‘Black lives matter!’ rang out through the Gardens. There were calls from NHS workers to take industrial action and force the government to reward the NHS workers fairly.
Some of the most moving speeches came from those who had been working on the frontline themselves. One young woman nurse talked about her experience of being thrown into the ICU with minimal training and the sheer amount of deaths she had seen in her time there. A common theme amongst the NHS workers was their genuine passion for their work and the hopelessness felt about the current situation.
Families gathered on the fringes to listen to the speakers and construction workers also observed on their break. The plight of the NHS is clearly a cause many people in this country support and the demonstration was well received by shoppers and workers as they passed by.
The march in Newcastle, led by health workers and supporters, sent a clear message that claps from the government ring completely hollow without the pay rise they deserve. Placards displayed messages such as ‘claps aren’t currency’ and ‘they’re tired, they’re stressed, save our NHS!’
The public perception was particularly heartening. There were claps from onlookers and beeps from motorists, as another reminder of the widely shared affection ordinary people have for the NHS and those who work for it, including of course the hundreds who have tragically died in the process.
The march went from Royal Victoria Infirmary to the rallying point in Times Square, where a number of health workers took the platform. Sarah, one of the organisers and a local health worker, took on the government in a passionate speech about the disgusting level of contempt they have shown to nurses and other healthcare staff who have been left to fight the virus ill-equipped - “I am 29 years old. I shouldn’t have to think about my mortality in such a way.”
To huge cheers, she also articulated the determination of workers like her to fight against privatisation and cuts to the NHS.
Other organisations who attended in support included North East Keep Our NHS Public, Save South Tyneside Hospital and North East People’s Assembly. We spoke to Jude Letham of Keep Our NHS Public, who reminded us of how badly the Tories have treated our health service:
“The NHS was in dire straits before Covid-19 started. We had 4.5 million people on waiting lists, last year 5,400 people died on A&E hospital trollies waiting for treatment and there were 100k staff vacancies in the NHS…. These workers have been under pressure for years and years because of the austerity measures of the Conservative government…. What they’ve been offered doesn’t even keep them in line with inflation.”
The rally ended with an uplifting performance by local musician, Bethany Elen, of her ‘Song for the NHS (Thank You)’.
Jeni Van Heerden
Walking in solidarity with Bristol’s NHS workers this morning felt strangely nostalgic. This must have been the 6th or 7th demonstration for the NHS I’ve attended since the Tories came into power over a decade ago, and yet this time, we were wearing masks and seeking to socially distance while simultaneously coming together.
Joining the hundreds of protesters who had arrived at Collage Green at 11am this morning to march for a 15% pay rise felt oddly shameful. How can it be that these people, who we have clapped for every Thursday night as a nation, are still having to fight for a fair wage?
After Boris Johnson was treated for Covid-19 and spent the entire lock down commending ‘our Heroes’, you would think that providing them with a living wage, might be something on his agenda as the Prime Minister. And yet here we are.
Despite feeling a tinge of sadness that our NHS staff were spending their Saturday morning off rallying for a pay rise after all their efforts during the pandemic, the crowds were overtly cheerful. Chants of ‘Boris Johnson Stop Your Lies; We Deserve a Pay Rise’ were sung through face coverings in the warm August heat.
A funky samba band, dressed in blue, led the throng and beat out a rhythm to the cheers. As the protest hit Cabot Circus, honks of horns from the bus drivers and nearby taxis were heard as they joined in to signal their solidarity.
As we face threats of future lock downs and further spikes in cases, hopefully those cries will not fall onto deaf ears, and these workers will be rewarded for their work on the front line with a decent wage and a proper funded health service for the benefit of all.
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