Friday, May 19, 2006

1974 COHSE Nurses Campaign Diary


Campaign diary

30 April 1974: Staff Side meet the Secretary of State to request that she appoint an independent review body for nurses' pay and that an interim payment be made while the review body sits. COHSE launches its campaign for a major re-examination of nursing pay. Albert Spanswick tells 1,500 nurses outside the Department of Health (Elephant & Castle):

'the Government's action on key social policy questions inherent in the social contact cannot exclude a full re-examination of the pay of people like nurses who form the human side of the equation. It must be clearly stated that nurses are highly-skilled, highly-trained employees carrying a high degree of clinical responsibility and who work constantly under great strain and pressure ... [and] ...that if no movement is forthcoming, we will be forced to explore the possibilities of further action.'

Many more nurses had arrived at the COHSE organised demonstration than expected, and it was the signal for demonstrations all over the country; on one Saturday there were simultaneous demonstrations in seven major cities.

8 May 1974: eleven nurses at Storthes Hall Hospital, Huddersfield, strike for one hour— three wards closed. For the first time, nurses have taken industrial action — 'The possibility', said the Guardian of 13 May 'of strikes by nurses is real for the first time.' Announcement of £18 million to implement minor increases flowing from the implementation of the Briggs Report — only increases anger of most nurses.

13 May 1974: first moves made to restrict hospital admissions

14 May 1974: nurses at Newsham General, Liverpool, strike for one hour.

15 May 1974: Albert Spanswick calls for 'no less than £100 million on the table' and rejects any reference to a standing royal commission — 'I am sad to have to say that it is now no longer possible to assume that nurses will never take strike action.' Over fifty MPs sign a Labour motion calling for nurses' pay to be doubled.

16 May 1974: COHSE's NEC meets in emergency session and decides that industrial action will be imposed if the meeting at 10 Downing Street with the Prime Minister on 20 May does not provide 'cash on the table'. Rcn argues for mass resignations of nurses from the NHS.

20 May 1974: meeting at 10 Downing Street yields a promise only of urgent consideration of the problem and an assurance of the Government's concern.

21 May 1974: emergency meeting of all COHSE regional officers held. Six-point

plan of industrial action announced to come into effect at midnight on 26—27 May, as follows:

(a) a ban on clerical duties;

(b) a ban on domestic duties;

(c) a ban on 'acting-up';

(d) a ban on all overtime;

(e) selected and short withdrawals of labour;

(f) ASC staff asked not to fill-in with domestic jobs normally done by nurses, 200 nurses at Guy's Hospital warn that they will treat only emergency cases from 27 May 1974.

23 May 1974: announcement on industrial action prompts a surprise statement from the Secretary of State — an independent inquiry to be set up under Lord Halsbury and any increases backdated to the date of the announcement. But no word of an interim payment or a fixed date for the inquiry to report by. COHSE dismissed some talk of a 'miners-type inquiry' as 'rather optimistic'.

25 May 1974: COHSE's NEC meets in emergency session to consider the announcement of the inquiry. After the meeting, Albert Spanswick tells the press that the, industrial action stays because there is no interim payment and the inquiry could 'take months' (no specific date other than 'late summer' had been announced).

29 May 1974 : one and two hour stoppages occur every day in all parts of the country. Nearly 20,000 nurses are affected in the North-west on 29 May.

COHSE announces special measures to prevent seriously ill patients being affected.

June 1974: by the end of the first week, over fifty wards have been closed and patient care rearranged, COHSE action committees in local hospitals enjoy for the most part good co-operation with local hospital management.

Dockers in Manchester and other industrial workers stop work in sympathy during the first week. Industrial action spreads to local authority nurses.

During this month, strong support is shown from many nurses, not all of whom are COHSE members. Emergency arrangements stand-up, doctors voice support and wards continue to close. Many hospitals are restricted to emergency-only admissions. Membership of the inquiry is not announced until 7 June.

COHSE Delegate Conference opens in Margate on 10 June. Nursing pay debate on Tuesday. Hard-line position for all-out NEC Emergency Resolution offering complete return to normality if interim payment is offered carried overwhelmingly. John Cronin, MP, Chairman of COHSE's Parliamentary Committee, backs demand for an interim payment.

20 June 1974 : COHSE decides to step-up action, believing that an interim payment is reasonable, because of the absence of a firm date for the report's publication. Nurses give COHSE an overwhelming vote of confidence — May recruiting figures show 14,882 new nurse members. Bans introduced on private patients and agency nurses, and a ban placed on all non-emergency admissions.

28 June 1974: following a week of secret meetings between senior COHSE officers and the Secretary of State, Mrs Castle says that Lord Halsbury will announce the publication date of his report at the end of July, and that she 'will consider asking him to recommend an interim payment' if the report is unduly delayed.

29 June 1974; COHSE's NEC meets in emergency session and agrees to suspend industrial action. Albert Spanswick says that 'the Government has been prepared to move towards us and we have been prepared to move towards them. We have succeeded in defining the date of the report .' Bans on private beds and agency nurses remain. COHSE looks towards the 31 August deadline set by Delegate Conference. Between three and four hundred wards have been closed during the course of the campaign.

July 1974: at the end of July, Mrs Castle tells a special meeting of COHSE's NEC that the report will be published in the week beginning 16 September. NEC agrees not to reimpose industrial action — Albert Spanswick says that COHSE's action has been instrumental in getting the inquiry and that the industrial action had, by expressing the determination of nurses, achieved the establishment of a clear date for the Committee's deliberations. Industrial action had been regrettable, but 'had given nurses their self-respect'.

Report published 17 September. Saga of 1972 revaluation claim finally over.