Friday, March 02, 2007

New Labour's NHS Cuts: strike action threatened.

Well, it's come to a pretty pass when the defenders of NHS workers' pay are a bunch of football stars led by Ryan Giggs. It turns out that Gordon Brown's bid for the leadership of the Labour Party includes pay cuts for nurses. While the cost of living soars, the government is to ensure that wage rises for nurses are well below the rate of inflation, such that they will have a substantial real terms cut in pay. This has resulted in unions mooting the prospect of NHS strikes.

There is clearly a delusional atmosphere at the heart of New Labour if Gordon Brown really believes what he is reported to believe: "Mr Brown believes any political fallout from the unions will be outweighed by support for his anti-inflationary stance from the wider public." The "wider public" happens to include most working people whose income is being managed by a tacit government incomes policy - now, even if they aren't completely aware of the effect that government policy has on incomes (the state sector happens to include more than a fifth of all employment in the UK), I bet you there is hardly a granule of support, even among Tory voters, for lower wages for nurses.

As it happens, the pay squeeze applies much more broadly than nurses, but they have received the most contemptuous insult. Curiously, a few thousand squaddies seem to be getting a decent pay rise. Brown's economic strategy is straightforward: he manages incomes, interest rates and labour market laws according to the dispensations of neoliberalism, in which strategies to suppress the bargaining power of labour by sustaining unemployment and low wages are described as 'anti-inflationary'. This is not new: in fact, I'd be interested if anyone could point to a difference in principle between his approach and that of Nigel Lawson. But if the economic strategy is clear, what is the political strategy? Clearly, Brown must be expecting some laudatory headlines about looking after the much abused troops, who are doing their best under difficult situations. And one must assume that he has polling data that suggests wavering voters are concerned about all the stories they've been hearing from the Mail about New Labour profligacy, the nanny state, and outrageous pay demands from the unions. Presumably, this man who manages to out-dull David Cameron has concluded that kicking single mothers around in 1997 must be topped by kicking nurses around a decade later.

Socialist Worker, having early wind of this, reported earlier today that polls showed that two thirds of nurses would be willing to strike over it. As they also report here, a large part of the much discussed cash crisis is resulting from the privatisation drive of the government, in which the government have created a crisis in order to force the pace of their 'reforms'. There were already a series of protest meetings planned against cuts in the health service, and this suckerpunch may well add to the urgency of it. I would be surprised if industrial action isn't seriously on the cards.