Nurses Lead Solidarity Actions "Across the Pond" from 2 million striking British workers

By: Donna Smith and Charles Idelson

As more than 2 million nurses, teachers, paramedics and other workers held the largest strike in over three decades across Great Britain, National Nurses United, joined by other union members, held energetic support rallies in six U.S. cities to show solidarity with their embattled British counterparts.

At rallies outside the British embassy in Washington, and British consulates in Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, nurses picketed, and delivered a letter from NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro to consular officials showing support for the massive British strike.

The United Steel Workers, Teamsters, AFT, ATU, SEIU, AFL central labor councils, Unite-Here, and members of Occupy DC and Occupy Chicago, were among labor and community activists joining the solidarity actions.

The historic British strike was called by the workers to protest brutal cuts to their pensions and retirement benefits.

As nurses and other union members and activists said in the support rallies in the U.S., American workers face similar fights.

NNU Co-President Karen Higgins, RN
NNU Co-President Karen Higgins, RN speaking at DC rally

After she was allowed inside the gates of the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., Karen Higgins, RN, NNU co-president, told the approximately 200 protestors gathered outside, “I said to them, if people have to keep working with no pensions, it is hurting everyone. I told him he needs to get in touch with his comrades across the pond and tell them this cannot happen.”  

Washington Hospital Center RN Rajini Raj said, “We're here in support of the more than two million people striking in Great Britain today. We know an injury to one is an injury to all even if there is an ocean between us.”  The nurses were joined by members of several national labor unions, including AFT, SEIU, the Teamsters, and the D.C. Metropolitan Central Labor Council  along with dozens of people who joined from Occupy DC.

Tommy Ratcliff, President of Teamsters Local 639, said, “It's going to continue to happen to public workers and private workers. 14 million people are out of work -- where will it end?  It's just corporate greed. It's the difference between the 1 percent and the 99 percent.”

Boston Action
Boston action

Chicago Rally
Chicago rally

More than 100 people, including USW members from both the greater Chicago area and Indiana, rallied in Chicago. Rally speakers included NNU co-president Jean Ross, RN, and representatives of the Chicago Labor Federation, UNITE-HERE, Amalgamated Transit Union, Chicago Teachers Union, Progressive Democrats of America, and Occupy Chicago. After police initially blocked entrance to the consulate, consular officials eventually agreed to come down and meet with a delegation.

Los Angeles Rally
Los Angeles rally

A similar scene occurred in Los Angeles, where the consulate stalled on meeting with protesters, but agreed to meet when the rally participants, who numbered over 100, made it clear they would not be turned away. The action included nurses and members of the California Teachers Association, LA County Labor Federation, and the Physicians for a National Health Plan.

In San Francisco, where a delegation of nurse leaders met with the city’s consular general, 100 people from NNU picketed the downtown consulate.

Zenei Cortez, RN delivers letter to San Francisco Consul General Priya Guha
Zenei Cortez, RN delivers letter to San Francisco Consul General Priya Guha

“Even though we all live in different parts of the world, we are all fighting for the same issues,” said Zenei Cortez, RN, a co-president of the California Nurses Association, and an NNU vice president addressing the San Francisco picket.

In her letter, addressed to Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Great Britain’s Ambassador to the U.S. and copied to other consular officials, DeMoro noted that U.S. nurses strongly support British workers “who are standing up for their rights and for the integrity of public services in your country.”

“We urge the British government to stop its attempt to make public-sector workers pay more and work longer to receive a smaller pension when they retire.  The government’s plans will impact women the most, who already suffer from lower pensions.   This attack on the people who provide patient care at the National Health Service, teach school children, and provide essential public services is unconscionable,” DeMoro said.

Among major participants in the U.K. strike is UNISON, whose members include many nurses and other healthcare workers. The strikers are saying no to “pay more, work longer, get less,” a so-called “triple squeeze” in which pensions are reduced and age eligibility extended.  

“The plans are just a cynical move to raise 4 billion [British pounds] to pay down the deficit caused by the bankers,” said Karen Jennings, UNISON’s assistant general secretary.  

One solution put forward both in the U.S. and in the U.K. is for passage of a financial transaction tax (FTT) – in Britain termed a “Robin Hood Tax.”   An FTT is a sales tax aimed at speculative trading and would raise up to $350 billion a year in the U.S. alone.  

“NNU supports an FTT around the globe,” said NNU Secretary-Treasurer Martha Kuhl, RN at the San Francisco picket, “so that everyone can enjoy the essential services they deserve, and so that the workers who provide these services don’t have to take cut backs.”

“Nurses see what this economy is doing to our communities in stress, dislocation, and poverty,” said Karen Higgins, RN and NNU co-president. “We are going out in support of UNISON, drawing the line against cuts to retirement security and other essentials for working families.”


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