From the Global Women’s Strike
Dear RCN general secretary Pat Cullen and striking nurses,
Like most of the public, we strongly support your strike and will be making a donation to your strike fund. We joined last Thursday’s picket line in Euston, London, and are inviting people in our network to march with us from UCH to Downing Street on Tuesday.
Gen sec Pat Cullen is right: pointing out that RCN members are 90% women and that the government is treating nurses with “contempt and disrespect”, you conclude that this “links back to the value of caring and it being female work”. As nurses but also as unwaged mothers and other family carers we couldn’t agree more. Nursing is caring work, and caring is central to this strike. As you’ve said: nurses are striking for “patient safety and pay justice” and the way to “save the NHS” as increased privatisation and underfunding prevents “nurses from caring” and threatens its very existence.
For the last 50 years, the Wages for Housework Campaign which co-ordinates the GWS has highlighted that unless caring work is financially recognised, starting with the universal work of mothers, its value will remain low and women will be the most exploitable. The nurses in our network stress what mothers and other family caregivers know only too well, that caring, protecting life, is not a job like any other. As one of our nursing members, the late Bernadette Maharaj, said about her work: “You give yourself.” She was speaking in our BBCTV documentary, All Work and No Pay, made not long after the 1974 nurses’ mobilisation to strike which won substantial pay increases. Bernadette, a mother of three, was from Trinidad, one of the many thousands of immigrant health workers on whom the survival of the NHS has always depended. Their main slogan at the time was “You can’t put dedication in the bank.” Even truer today that so many health workers, especially single mothers, are having to resort to food banks to feed their children.
As we now know, the real pay of nurses struggling to cope with the pandemic and increased workloads fell by £1,800 over the last year and earnings are £5,000 a year less than in 2010 (Guardian,12 December 22,here.)
The government claims there is no money to pay nurses and other public sector workers. But there was money to pay Tory peer Michelle Mone who raked in £100 million providing (defective) PPE products, and to pay others with government connections who enriched themselves during the pandemic. There is money to subsidise the industries that cause sickness and death – fossil fuels, agribusiness, war… – and to protect the energy companies which are driving inflation with their obscene profits. And most importantly right now, there is money to subsidise the privatised railway owners to stop them settling the rail workers’ strike. We all know the money is there – it’s just in the wrong hands.
Caring matters. Carers matter. Those who need care, all of us, matter. In supporting the nurses strike we support ourselves, in our common carers’ struggle for every life to matter and be cared for. Unlike the government, we the people who came out clapping to thank NHS workers during Covid meant it – that’s why we urge everyone to support the strike and your demand for pay justice.
Power to the nurses and all other low paid workers in the NHS! Invest in caring, invest in carers,
Caroline Barker SRN, mother & grandmother
 Nurses’ union leader accuses Steve Barclay of ‘bullyboy tactics’, Guardian 10 December 2022