Boost for nurses’ campaign April 30, 2007Posted by franklittle in Health, Irish Labour Party, media, Media and Journalism, Progressive Democrats, Sinn Féin, Trade Unions.
While most of us are focused on the elections, and the announcement yesterday that the longest election campaign in history now has an end date, the nursing unions will be immensely buoyed by a report in today’s Irish Times (Sub required) that shows that 65% of voters back their demands for a 10% wage increase and a 35 hour week.
Even better, a clear majority, 58% of voters, also back industrial action in pursuit of their claims. Even with the general instinctive sympathy towards nurses that exists in Irish society it is staggering to see people not just support their campaign, but support the use of industrial action to achieve the objective. I can’t remember an opinion poll that showed support for strike action in a long time and it’s a far cry from the public’s reaction to the ASTI dispute, with which it has some similarity.
Much as with the ASTI, the nurses have enjoyed the experience of being repeatedly kicked in the face by the media. The Evening Herald and the Irish Daily Mail have been sticking the boot into the nurses Work-to-rule campaign, now in it’s fifth week, on an almost daily basis with harrowing tales of callous nurses sneering as old people gasp for air on the hospital floor and so on. Newstalk’s Claire Byrne has given them a hammering in her column for the Tribune and on the airwaves. The more ‘liberal’ papers have pushed Benchmarking as the solution.
While on a local level the lunchtime protests by nurses outside the hospitals, suspended now while negotiations are underway and due to resume tomorrow, have been attended by Government and Opposition TDs and candidates, so far Sinn Féin is the only party to give the nurses wholehearted support. Labour’s instinctive sympathy for the nurses and desire to put the boot into Harney over this is blunted by their need to keep the SIPTU/ICTU leaderships onside.
Beggs and O’Connor are worried that the end-run by the nurses has the potential to undermine Partnership and the Benchmarking process. As SIPTU Nursing President Mary Durkin put it at SIPTU’s National Nursing Convention in Castlebar at the start of the month, “The pay anomaly which exists between some staff nurse and childcare workers can be dealt with through the Benchmarking process, in my view….this round of Benchmarking should rectify that anomaly.”
Interestingly, SIPTU went so far as to issue a clarifying statement last week in an effort to correct various unspecified ‘misunderstandings’ that had appeared in the media.
So Labour’s hands are tied a little on this, but from the polls, 71% of their supporters, and 79% of Sinn Féin’s, back the nurses. In fact, majorities of voters backing every party bar one back the nurses and there will be no prizes for anyone guessing that it’s the Progressive Democrats. So despite the fact that our political leaders have, for the most part, not been backing the nurses, or in some cases actively opposing them, the nurses retain massive public support.
And they’re likely to need it. According to the Times again, the talks between the unions and the Health Service Executive Employers Agency are at an impasse, with the reduction in hours believed to be the main stumbling block to a resolution. If the nurses have to back to the picket line, it will be interesting to see how solid their support remains, and whether much like the ASTI, they will be abandoned by the other unions and their political leaderships.
And on a slightly related note, congratulations to all who turned out for the May Day march yesterday in Dublin. Turnout was about twice as big as last year and it was clear that the boys and girls of Liberty Hall and Parnell Square actually put some effort in this year, even if they designed some of the least eye-catching posters in Europe to publicise it. There are pictures up on Indymedia.