A wave of strike action is continuing across the UK throughout this winter. This is not a surprise as working conditions and pay has been deteriorating since Conservative and Lib Dem’s imposition of austerity in 2010. Taking the example of nurses, pay has fallen in real terms by 20% in this period, leading to many having to access hardship funds, use food banks or simply walk away from the profession. In roughly the same period, the wealth of UK billionaires has increased by nearly 300%. Make no mistake, austerity and entrenched inequality are political choices.
These strikes are about far more than pay, as, in all sectors, conditions for work have deteriorated. New pay offers are being tied to measures which are likely to make them deteriorate further, such as longer hours, 7-day weeks, weaker pensions and compulsory redundancies. Again, people are voting with their feet. There are now 47,000 vacancies for nursing roles in England alone, with 40% fewer working in social care than 10 years ago. This is all a far cry from Sunak’s statement in 2020 saying that the NHS will get “whatever it needs” to deal with the country’s impending health crisis.
Instead of dealing with this confluence of crises, the current government intends to stifle dissent, crucial to any properly functioning democracy, whilst simultaneously blaming the workers most affected by their own policies and their refusal to negotiate. This can be seen in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act which would give police the power to break up protests if they are deemed too ‘noisy’, and with the promise of ‘tough new laws’ to prevent and restrict further strike action by unions trying to protect their jobs.
In Sheffield, and nationally, the Green Party is proud to support those on strike. We recognise that it is the 12 years of wilful neglect that has caused the current situation we find ourselves in, not the strikers themselves who, after all, are part of the working public the government are claiming to protect. We recognise that it is not the demands of the unions which cause inflation to rise, but profit jumps of oil and gas giants and other large corporations, as well as ‘external forces’ the Tories blame it on. We know that public sector pay rises are both deserved and provide long-term security to the services we cherish. Even if an inflation-matching pay award of 11% was given to all public sector staff, this would still be less than what the Tory mini-budget cost the UK economy in September. It will also reduce the huge amounts of funding currently being squandered on absurdly high agency fees to cover unfilled posts.
But more than all of this, we recognise that fully functioning public services are the bedrock of a more just and equal society, one in which opportunity and access to services, work, wealth and information are afforded to everybody, not just the privileged few.
Cllr Marieanne Elliott, Sheffield Green Party