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Posts tagged ‘Jeremy Corbyn’

Marching against the DUP

Supporting Grenfell too

For the first time in many years I joined a demo a couple of weeks ago. In my pre-wheelchair days I had been a frequent attendee at CND, Anti-Apartheid and other marches. Having seen the overtly aggressive actions from police increase over the years, I was scared to be part of a demo again. Further damage to my spine could leave me paralysed. That was a risk I was not willing to take.

But as I read the postings on Facebook for the anti-DUP demo and saw friends were going I decided to join them. My anger as a gay woman at the lack of LGBT equality, was one reason. However it was my experiences as a Nurse supporting women from Northern Ireland who had come to the UK for termination of pregnancy, that was my deciding factor.

Forcing a woman who had been the victim of rape or incest (or both) to continue with a pregnancy is beyond cruel. Maybe carrying a child to term would be harmful for other reasons. The psychological damage these women carry throughout their lives isolates them. They can never speak of the wounds they bear. These women need support, not condemnation and religious intolerance.

To force them to travel to another part of the UK and then pay for the operation they quite rightly seek, is wrong. Why should where a woman lives determine if she pays for a operation she needs?

So I found my bright red pro-choice t-shirt and set off the join my friends. I even managed to park in the first disabled bay I found at the back of Westminster Abbey. A minor miracle, that bode well for my day.

I soon found the friend I’d arranged to wheel with. Jay introduced me to one of her friends and another woman who was on her own. We soon swapped stories and found common threads in our lives. 

The biggest obstacle I faced all day? No ramps onto the grass at Parliament Square! Why? Are wheelchair users banned from the grass? It may be difficult for us to sit on, but don’t separate us out. Luckily my friends helped me get on to the grass and back to the pavement again. 

The speeches at the beginning were inspiring. I was so pleased that supporters of the Grenfell Tower victims were able to join us. That was making our women’s only march mixed gender, unusual but absolutely right at this time. The march was also trans-inclusive, which was another positive action by the organisers. I’m always pleased when the TEFs (trans exclusionist feminists) don’t get to inflict their displaced irrationalism on other women.

Officially the wheelchair users were to be at the front of the march,  but as we moved up towards Downing Street, I soon found myself cocooned in the center of a mass of women. I felt fully included and safe. On Theresa May’s door step the chanting begun to increase. “No racist, sexist, anti gay, no DUP no way.” “Torys, Torys, Torys, out, out out”, we continued. Then came the chants for Corbyn. Never in all my 40 years of demonstrations have I been amongst a group of protesters who not only wanted the current government out of office, but knew exactly who they wanted as the next PM. 

As I watched Jeremy Corbyn speak at Glastonbury a few hours later, with that enormous crowd supporting and cheering him, I felt the same solidarity that I had been part of in Whitehall. I cannot recall a time I have ever known this strength of positive feeling towards a party leader in the UK.

Slowly, but very surely the political tide is turning. The anger about Grenfell, and the untold stories yet to come. The chaos of the Brexit negotiations and this poison-pact with the DUP will all unravel soon.

Decent, safe homes, a woman’s right to choose, a society that does not discriminate, these are values for all. We will continue to demonstrate until they are achieved. 

This post first appeared on my Huffington Post blog.


Should Nurses go on Strike?

An ethical dilemma.

Last month I watched my Royal College of Nursing colleagues give Jeremy Corbyn a standing ovation at the end of his speech to RCN Congress. I felt proud of the support they gave him.

But 24 hours earlier the RCN made a worrying announcement. They have been balloting nurses about the current pay crisis. 91% of nurses said they’d take industrial action short of a strike. 78% of members who completed the poll said they were prepared to go on strike. This is the first time in 101 years of the RCN that nurses have decided to strike.

I have been a qualified nurse for 40 years. Never in my career have I known nurses wanting to strike. We’ve previously protested about pay. As a student nurse in the 1970s, I and many of my off-duty colleagues marched through the streets of Exeter. I will never forget the reaction of some of the by-standers. Whilst the majority were supportive, some spat at us and accused us of killing patients by being on the march. Nurses were only allowed to march if off duty or given formal permission by a Matron. No patient care was affected by our actions. It took some time for my student nurse pay of £11 a week to improve!

RCN members have now voted at Congress to begin a summer of planned protests. And so they should. There is currently a 1% cap on public sector pay rises. Unless there is a change of government, this will continue until at least 2019-20. The effect being that the average nurse has suffered a real-terms pay cut of 14% since 2010. This is not acceptable. Nurses are now being forced to use food banks.

Our professional registration and indemnity insurance fees have risen. We have to pay these before we can work. Pay and conditions are worsening. Most nurses are now working long 12 hour shifts. When I started to train these had just been phased out, apart from Night Duty. We were told that such long shifts meant nurses were too tired and could make mistakes. Why is the same advice not valid now? 

What can nurses do to highlight their plight? There are few actions they can take without jeopardising care. Working to rule, what would that involve? Not staying on after a shift has ended if there is an emergency? I guess some nurses if they have pressing family issues, such as collecting children from nursery, may feel they can’t stay on. But most nurses I know would willingly stay on to help. Not helping a patient in some extra way? I doubt it.

What would I do if I were still working in the NHS? I really don’t know. I would certainly ‘cover’ so more junior nurses can protest in some way. I suspect when it comes down to taking strike action, most nurses will be very reluctant. I went into nursing because I cared about people and wanted to learn how to help people get better. That still holds true for nurses today. The word vocation may be rarely heard, but nurses still care, deeply.

This current government knows this. It’s why they have treated nurses and other healthcare workers so disgracefully when it comes to pay and conditions. Theresa May did not even bother to acknowledge her invitation to the RCN Congress. Whilst the two other party leaders did attend, Theresa was nowhere to be seen. There are 675,000 nurses in the UK how many votes did she loose? 

I have seen at first hand over the last 6 years how hard nurses work. During that time I’ve had 4 different operations as well as other treatment. Most of my nursing care was good. I saw nurses having to care for confused and elderly post-operative patients in a High Dependency Unit. The unit was understaffed, the nurses not adequately trained. There were not enough doctors  on duty either. 

Visiting a friend in a psychiatric hospital last year, the picture was the same. The ward was chaotic and noisy, with not enough staff. There were no extra staff to provide activities either. The reason? More bed closures including the specialist high care unit.

Yes, nurses can protest outside hospitals or Downing Street. But I cannot imagine any nurse leaving the ward to actually withdraw their labour. In itself that would be a breach of the NMC Code of Conduct. Nurses could refuse to do overtime. But the effect of that will be to reduce their pay even further. 

All I know, is that when nurses are protesting – I will join them. Both as a patient and a nurse. 



Why this election is personal

The disability vote and why it matters

The UK is now in the midst of a General Election campaign. I have been a political activist in the UK and US since I was 14, and this time is no different. I’m involved in organisation and campaign strategy. I also manage several social media accounts to support our local candidates. 

I’m doing all of this because I want a change of government.

But for me, this is not just about voting Labour, a party I passionately believe in. A party that has the best policies to give us greater equality. In Jeremy Corbyn we have a leader who seeks a great distribution of wealth, and goverment for the many, not the few. The election is also about what this cruel and heartless government and the two preceding ones have done to disabled people.

Almost 19% of UK citizens have a disability. For most of us, we were either born with the disability, or we have become disabled having worked for many years. Those of us who have congenital conditions often suffered as children. Sometimes through neglect and sometimes through ignorance. Those of us who have acquired disabilities frequently find that even though want to work again, even part-time, that option is not possible. 

I have one friend, A GP who used to work with drug addicts. He has had a stoke, and as a result needs a wheelchair to get around. But his home is not wheelchair accessible, so he is denied a wheelchair. If he had a wheelchair, kept in his car or in a garage, he would be able to work again. But this is now denied him. All his years of training and expertise have gone to waste. He cannot afford to move, as he can’t get a mortgage because he’s not working. 

I have another friend, she has a congenital condition, and experienced a abusive childhood. She has trained as an actor and voice coach. Most of her work opportunities are in London. But she can’t afford to live here. So she struggles to survive on part-time hourly paid jobs with no security. She is also in constant pain and cannot afford ‘time out’ for the surgery she needs.

These storied are replicated all over the UK. I know other people who could work part-time, but cannot get the care support they need to enable to be employable.

So this election is personal for me and for my disabled friends. We are asking to become valued members of society again. It is wrong to view us as scroungers or cheats. We have skills aplenty – but need accessible transport and work environments. We need employers to treat us, and all workers, fairly. Did you know most people who use food banks are actually in work?

We need an NHS, free at the point of delivery that is run for the benefit of patients, not for managers or private companies bidding to run services. We need more nurses, especially in mental health, who are paid properly for the work they do. We want properly funded schools for our children and grandchildren. The money this would take can easily be found if companies and Tory backers no longer have ‘sweetheart tax deals’.

The only way that can happen is if people vote out Theresa May and her cronies.

Disabled people are becoming more involved in this election than ever before. My next post will give the story of what’s happening. 


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