Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Politics, Strikes and Goodwill

Those of you who read my ramblings on a regular basis, will know that 99% of the time, I try to avoid any of the politics involved in this job, and concentrate on real people and real events. This time, however, the politics are a little bit too big to ignore. 

In under nine hours time, a huge strike by some two million public-sector workers will begin. I wrote about my feelings on this strike in a post at the beginning of the month, and I still stand by what I said then. In fact, I resigned my membership of the union last week, so as not to be in a position where I had to decide at the last minute where my allegiances lay, or leave me any room for second thoughts. 

Over the past few days I have spoken to many of my colleagues, all with differing views on the strike. Some are supporting it wholeheartedly and will down tools, some who are still torn between the patients and the greater cause, some who agree with me that this is the wrong way to go about things. The unions and the ambulance service have been in negotiations as to what sort of cover will be provided, and the agreement that has been reached is that the vast majority of calls that we normally attend will still have an ambulance arrive. At times the response may be slower, but the most serious calls will still hopefully receive the normal fast response. 

This agreement, whilst seen by many as turning the strike into a something of a damp squib rather than a strong statement, did something positive for those who were unsure as to the best course of action. Many, many paramedics (and nurses) felt very uncomfortable with the idea of striking and leaving their patients in need. There was a general uneasiness, something that I think the government (or Government) relied on a little too much, amongst many public servants, particularly those with direct and immediate public contact. An uneasiness that leaving our jobs for a day would impact badly on people who, through no fault of their own, are some of the most vulnerable in our society. 

The uneasiness felt by many, certainly in the health service sector, took yet another battering this afternoon. Just a few hours ago, the Chancellor announced that at the end of the two year public-sector pay freeze, a fiscal policy that still has some time to run, there will now be another two year period of only 1% pay rises. With an annual rate of inflation somewhere around the 5% mark, that pay-cap, in real terms, means a pay cut over four years in the region of some twenty percent. At the same time, tens of thousands of people on benefits, some genuinely, some whose claims range from dubious to outright fraudulent, will enjoy a rise in line with that rate of inflation. I'm no economist, but surely, the best way to get the economy jump-started is to encourage more work, not less. 

Many of those who were left confused and unsure about a strike, and who were going to work through it, are now left battered and bruised by another swipe taken at their goodwill and desire to serve the public. There's a limit to how many times a person can be beaten and bounce back. There's a limit to how much goodwill can be stretched. Every person has their breaking point, even the most public spirited of us. 

I'll be working through the strike, but with a little more personal turmoil than I had anticipated. I will try to tweet throughout tonight and tomorrow night, bringing a selection of sights, sounds and thoughts from the front line. Who knows what lays the other side of the picket lines. 

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I prefer "dispute"over the word "strike" , because our jobs are to look after our community, and as we care for them, we could never turn down a plea for help.... and will always be there for those in need.

I admire you sentiment fella, not how your doing it though. for me there was never any doubt about if I would help someone or not.Even if I am on a picket line.

our pensions and our pay are both being attacked, and we need to defend ourselves, and our future wellbeing. our job is not designed for people over 60, and after 20 years doing it, my body is already showing signs of wear from lifting and shift work. under the governments plans, I have another 27 years to be out there saving lives....

thats not right.

stay safe dude. see you out there
'the caring neighbour'

Anonymous said...

I'm still undecided as to which way to go, although the emergency cover arrangements and today's autumn review will certainly make it easier to fall down on the side of industrial action.

At the end of the day though, our government's ideal is a small public sector and small state that doesn't cost much and is governed more by 'market forces' than by responsible decisions made by ministers. The cuts to our services and our pensions are just the first swipe at this, and I don't see any way we can stop it happening other than at the polls in a few years time.

Anonymous said...

I respect your decision, but I personally am withdrawing labour. My feeling is that our goodwill has been taken advantage of, and I hope a decent turnout in the dispute tomorrow will make the government think a little longer before making any more cuts to our living standards. I am already feeling the pinch of no pay rises for the last 2 years in the face of huge inflation - the changes proposed will make life very hard for many of us.

I hope all goes well for everyone tomorrow, whatever their decision.

Anonymous said...

a 1% payrise. better than my pretty continuous pay cuts over the past few years. oh, and my employer doesn't contribute 1p to my pension.

Tom said...

Tomorrow is going to be a right bugger. I will be interested to see how decimated the nursing staff at the hospital I am on placement at will be. I am a student nurse. I'm used to being understaffed and the like but this will be something new. I can full well understand why nurses are striking as we're being well and truly buggered in pensions. I don't mind working longer than other people but if you're going to shaft my pension for whenever I do eventually retire...
Fortunately I am a member of the RCN which seems to frown upon strike action and is somewhat less militant than other unions. However, there comes a point when even the most mild mannered man will be taken too far.
I am here to serve the public yet if I am being asked to do so and being absolutely buggered when I retire I will speak my mind. There comes a time when we will tolerate no more. I recall nursing strikes in South Africa a few years back that led to patient dying. It won't come to this here, or at least I seriously hope not. The NHS is in dire need of a rethink about how it spends it's cash too. I'd rather nurses were well paid or in sufficient number to care properly rather than a trust getting an electronic record system meaning we can do away with paper records. I'd rather scribble away my day's writing on paper in the knowledge that we'll be paid mildly better and that there will be a positive impact on patient care. Understaffing is a right bugger where I work in Oxford. We got a right slating from the CQC this summer and well, I think a serious amount was to do with a lack of nurses. That and so many nurses over a certain age just don't seem to give a shit anymore.
Rant over at last!

Tom

The Radiographer said...

Don't forget the Radiographers and other AHPs who are also in a quandary over striking!
I feel that going on strike is the wrong way to go about things, and I really don't see how it will make the blindest bit of difference, but a lot of my colleagues in x-ray feel very strongly about how we've all been treated over pensions and will consequently not be working tomorrow.
As luck would have it I'm on a day off tomorrow before a block of nights, so I don't have to make the difficult decision over whether to down tools or not.
Good luck tomorrow. I have a feeling everyone will need it.

MSgt B said...

I commented on your original post. (Just so you know where I'm coming from.)

Some people have a job. Some people have a calling.

If the payment you receive is the only reason you keep your present job, leave it now. You will never be happy enough.

hilinda said...

I saw your tweet, and have been wondering how you're doing tonight.
I'll keep my fingers crossed that nothing happens that can't be handled appropriately.
I understand the point of people who are frustrated with how they have been treated.
But I also understand not wanting to do (or not do) anything that might cause harm to come to someone.
It's a tough choice. I wish there was a better way.

TAZ THE AMBO said...

My cap of 2.5% doesn't look so bad in light of yours.
We aren't in the job to get rich but fair compensation and remuneration is expected.

Tom said...

All bar one or two radiographers were on today. Most of the nurses were in. Just every other fucker wasn't!

Flossy said...

Grr. Was going to rant and moan - but what's the point?? (From charity employee - with minimal salary, who took annual leave today to look after the strike affected kids!)

Josh Minor said...

As a non unionised member of staff, I did overtime today so that my unionised colleagues could strike safe in the knowledge that there was enough people in the control room to safely handle the calls coming in.

At various points today, I did feel like a "scab" and was at several points very worried that my efforts today may help the government break the strike.

I was, at times, both deeply unhappy at how well the service was coping today and very pleased. It was a complex and demanding day.

student paramed said...

Msgt B... A "calling" might help you stick it out through the tough times but it doesn't pay the mortgage.

I'm a student nurse/paramedic Down Under. Currently my nursing colleagues are struggling with State government over much of the same sort of thing. I respect those who strike - they are protecting my future. At the same time, I commend your stand.
Well done and good luck for the future.

A&E doc said...

At least one of the most urgent calls did not get answered as quickly as usual. Everyone who wholeheartedly approves the strikes without any sense of unease, how would you feel if that was your relative?

Paramed Student said...

Student Paramed.
We may be colleagues; do you happen to study at acu in a certain old mining town?
If so, I'm one of the second years.

Anonymous said...

A&E doc- That's why things end up the way they do in the NHS (and other public sector jobs). We don't want people to suffer so we put up with being so short staffed it's dangerous, and unfair pay and sudden changes to the pension system. We run ourselves ragged working more overtime to bring enough money in to feed the family, and stay for hours after shifts have ended because if we don't things don't get done and the patient suffers. This isn't looking after ourselves and it will eventually get to the point where those patients who need our help are suffering. Personally I'm not completely sold on striking for pensions, but I do feel that we should be striking for other things such as better staff:patient ratios etc. If we stand back and do nothing about problems like that then the number suffering in the long run will far exceed those who would suffer because of the strike.

Eileen said...

Anon 20.36 - fair enough. But do you have at least 60% of your evenings and weekends nixed because you either start work at 7pm (nights), don't finish until at least 7pm (days) or are working 1600-2400 hrs? If you are in the middle of a job do you have to put in anything up to 2 or 3 hours extra after a 12 hour shift with possibly no meal breaks, some of that extra without pay? Do you work bank holidays for basic rate (not overtime rates) because they fall on your rota? Even Christmas and New Year? Do you have to take your holidays when the management tells you even though you have children and it never coincides with school holidays? Are you regularly sworn at, spat at, vomited over or urinated on or hit, kicked or punched by the people you are serving? Put at risk of HIV because of a needle stick when trying to save a life?

If not - welcome to the reality of being an ambulance person. I'm not one - but I have 2 daughters, one is a nurse, one is a paramedic and both their partners are also in the ambulance service. They all worked or had to look after their kids because the teachers were on strike yesterday. Some of them are union reps - were rostered and did red calls.

Anonymous said...

Just another angle to add to the discussion, i am a student paramedic who was unable to work on the day of the strikes as i was rostered to be attending university that week. However; i spoke to one of my colleagues when i returned to work and was asked for my honest opinion on the strikes. I gave it and was informed that if i had crossed the 'picket line' everyone on station would have refused to work with me and i would have been 'shafted' to another station where my reputation as a 'scab' would precede me. How is a person supposed to follow their true thoughts in the face of such venom and threats?