Mass civil disobedience needed to fight 1% NHS pay rise

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Left Lockdown Sceptics editorial statement

Although it is now rumoured that nurses may get 2%, the pay offer proves once and for all that the government isn’t locking us down to protect the NHS – it is using support for the NHS to justify an assault on workers’ rights. In reply, NHS workers should join the public in mass civil disobedience.

The 1% pay rise for NHS workers sends a clear message: money in this pandemic shall flow only to the already-rich, who happen to work from home in the lockdown boom industries. Frontline health workers, who have spent a year labouring in suffocating PPE, can only look forward to dealing with a backlog of 6 million patients? They are to be treated like all other frontline workers: our key workers are only allowed to be “heroes” if they are also super-exploited – whilst tech and pharma execs, hiding in their home offices, grow rich.

This is clear because the sums involved, though huge, are in fact modest in comparison to the largesse of the Tory lockdown regime. A 1% increase on a payroll of £56bn is about £500m. A 5% rise would cost £28bn, less than the £35bn spent on the test and trace system and only a tenth of the £280bn spent in the name of “protecting the NHS”.

The government cannot afford to reward the NHS for its huge travails not because it cannot afford to pay, but because it cannot afford to set a precedent. The message is clear: the new normal consists of a wealthy group of home-working corporate professionals waited on hand and foot by a pulverised working class (i.e., the 70% who cannot work from home), whose only reward is simply not to belong to the surplus unemployed or furloughed population imprisoned in crowded homes. It is only in this way that such gargantuan profits can be made by the Covid winners: tech, pharma and the other favoured corporations.

The cruelty of a 1% “rise” for the exhausted NHS workforce is intended to set the tempo for the rest of the economy. And the battle against it should be supported by all workers.

To resist the government only within the constraints of the Covid restrictions, which ban demonstrations and picket lines, will only be so effective. Instead we must show the Tories that the whole lockdown edifice, a society based on such terrifying inequality and exploitation, divided between front line workers and corporate executives, will be resisted.

Civil disobedience has already started with a protest in Manchester. Let’s hope it continues. NHS workers could quickly rally the miserable population behind their cause by opposing not just the pay cut, but the lockdown regime that has done so much damage to the health service in the name of “protecting” it.

For example, strikes could be accompanied with more civil disobedience, such as organising spontaneous flash mobs and picket lines at hospitals.

NHS workers are not masked but muted “heroes” to be wheeled out to justify whatever authoritarian measure comes next. They are living breathing human beings. They are all of us. And they might be the first to stand up and fight back.

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