RCN declares UDI

Health pay unity under threat

THE HEALTHWORKERS’ struggle against local pay arrangements took a severe blow last week, when Royal College of Nursing officials failed to turn up for a crucial inter-union meeting scheduled for May 26 (they thoughtfully sent a fax message after the meeting had started) and instead revealed their intention to hold separate talks with the Department of Health.

Bob Abberley, Unison’s head of health, confessed that he was “stunned” at the RCN’s failure to attend the meeting and urged RCN members to put pressure on their leaders to think again.

The RCN’s reasons for declaring ‘UDI’ are not hard to ascertain, even if they are very disappointing, especially after its annual conference voted by 99% to ballot the membership on dropping the college’s no-strike rule.

Senior RCN officials are concerned about the influence of Unison and, more importantly, they fear that a inter-union body dominated by Unison would seek a single bargaining forum for all NHS employees which would subsume the nurses’ pay review body, that precious baby of the RCN. Christine Hancock, RCN general secretary, told the BBC, “Nurses...are the only people we can claim to speak for and represent.”

This outbreak of unreconstructed sectionalism flows quite logically from Hancock’s strategy of “critical mass”, which believes that, once 300 out of the 500 NHS trusts offer three percent without conditions, the rest will inevitably fall into line. The reactionary utopianism of this position is self-evident, since it relies upon doing ‘sweetheart’ deals of one sort or another with individual NHS trust managers rather than relying on any sort of collective workers’ voice against the health bosses as a whole.

However, it has to be said that Unison’s ‘strategy’ is, in reality, not much better. It looks towards a pay determination system that would give local managers a degree of ‘flexibility’ within a national framework - which is totally inadequate for the health-workers, who would still be vulnerable to predatory local health bosses.

We must not allow the sectionalist and localist tendencies displayed by the health union bosses to infect the campaign as a whole, as it would eventually lead to the dissipation of the considerable anger and militancy displayed so far by the healthworkers. All healthworkers must be represented in a single body within the framework of a national campaign - otherwise defeat will surely follow.

Danny Hammill