Monday would have marked the second strike of Primary Health Care workers, but it was called off to return to the bargaining table. According to a message the NZNO received from the NZ Medical Association (NZMA), the Ministry of Health and District Health Boards (DHBs) have made “commitments” to discuss an “improved offer.”
It is unclear whether the Government truly wishes to meet the nurses’ demands or if they intend to further stall negotiations, stop a second strike and destroy the momentum of the NZNO’s efforts. In any case, the strike on the 9th of November was a clear and powerful display of the strength of our country’s PHC workers.
The historic strike involved around 3200 nurses and administrators from general practices and emergency centres across the country––true heroes of the fight against COVID-19. They have been struggling for pay parity with nurses in DHB hospitals, who not only do similar work, but during the pandemic have often been working directly alongside PHC workers.
It is because of the crucially important role that these workers play in keeping kiwis healthy and responding to COVID-19 that the Government has made efforts to depoliticise the struggle of PHC workers. NZNO Industrial Advisor Chris Wilson said that “[they had] been told repeatedly by various Ministers of Health that this isn’t the Government’s problem but it clearly is.” To treat this issue as simply an economic one for pay parity would be to place one’s head in the sand. Nurses understand increasingly that the decision by the Government to have a whole section of them paid up to 10.6% less than their public counterparts is one based on the prioritisation of the interests of private capital over people’s lives.
This combination of economic and political strikes is incredibly important, and the combination of the two types does not at all weaken either of them. Lenin, in his article ‘Economic and Political Strikes,’ affirmed this, saying that “intertwining” the two “benefits both. Strengthens both.” The decision of nurses in Wellington to march to the Ministry of Health was undoubtedly significant in this regard and Communist Party members attended in full support. As negotiations continue, we must all stand behind PHC workers in this vital struggle not just for their rights, but for the reform of our country’s increasingly profit-driven healthcare system.