Last week Nadhim Zahawi, Conservative Party Chairman, told nurses via Sophy Ridge’s Sky News programme that he felt striking was “the wrong thing to do” and insinuated that their upcoming industrial action this month would be playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands. He said: “We have to come together… to I hope send a very clear message to Mr Putin that he can’t use energy as a weapon in this way and we will remain united which is why we’ve accepted the pay review bodies of the NHS and on schools.”
Members of the Royal College of Nursing are set to walk out over the next two weeks in the first UK-wide walkout in the organisation’s 106 year history, after the Government failed to come back to the negotiating table following a measly 4.75% pay offer.
Of course, this is not the first time we have seen politicians and businesses using extraneous circumstances to defend cuts in pay and terms and conditions. Throughout the Pandemic this narrative was used repeatedly. “Now is not the right time” as we have been told time and time again. Responding to Zahawi’s comments, Pat Cullen, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said “Using Russia’s war in Ukraine as a justification for a real-terms pay cut for nurses in the UK is a new low for this government… Record numbers of nurses are leaving because they feel undervalued and patients are paying the price.”
She finished: “I reiterate my commitment to meeting with ministers to address our dispute. Instead of negotiating with nurses, they are choosing strike action”. This flies in the face of Zahawi’s words on Sky News who said, “Our message to the unions is to say, ‘this is not a time to strike, this is a time to try and negotiate”. Just as we’ve seen time and time again in the rail sector, the Government are trying to paint a picture of union leaders refusing to engage in negotiations with employers and the Government when it simply isn’t true.
Zahawi’s comments reek of hypocrisy when, just last year, he faced scrutiny over earnings totalling over £1.3 million from oil companies in the Middle East. It is important to highlight that the real total of Zahawi’s earnings outside Parliament may never be known because of rules allowing him to advise companies through Zahawi & Zahawi Ltd, a consultancy he set up with his wife.
Zahawi is not alone in alleging that striking workers are playing into the hands of the Russian government. An article titled “Communist and Kremlin supporters lead the RMT” published in the Times newspaper yesterday sought to continue this narrative even more overtly than the Conservative Party Chairman.
The Times article attacked the RMT leadership and their principled stance against the rise of fascism in Ukraine. In particular, the article focused on RMT President, Alex Gordon, for his role in setting up the “Solidarity with Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine” organisation after the so-called Maidan Revolution in 2014. Alex Gordon, who sits on the Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Britain has been influential in garnering support for Stop the War and is committed to ending the war in Ukraine. To portray our own Party’s position as that of the Kremlin is not only outrageous but also entirely disingenuous.
The deliberate obfuscation of facts by the Times is nothing new. In fact, the British Right-Wing press have continued to talk about the Russian Federation as though it was still the Soviet Union. The comments from Zahawi and the Times article yesterday are part of a coherent move by the UK Government to present a view that ordinary working people standing together, fighting for better wages, and terms and conditions, are secretly part of a sect subservient to Russian oligarchs.
If only they turned the same attention to that of the ruling class. Everywhere you turn in the City of London, you’ll find Russian money squirreled away in offshore accounts and dodgy business deals. Instead of addressing the real elephant in the room, the UK Government are trying to divide us – the very thing Nadhim Zahawi accused nurses of last week.
Peter Stoddart, is the Treasurer of the YCL