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British nurses launch historic strike

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Nurses across much part of the UK launched a historic strike on Thursday, as they walked out of hospitals and onto picket lines after several years of falling pay and declining standards left the country’s nationalized health care system in a state of crisis.

As many as 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) the UK’s biggest nursing union are taking industrial action in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in the latest and most unprecedented of a wave of strikes that has swept Britain this winter.

It is the largest strike in the RCN’s 106-year history.

But it comes after several years of hardship for employees of Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), a revered but beleaguered institution that is straining due to staffing shortfalls, sky-high demand and stretched funding.

The RCN is calling for a pay rise of 5% above retail inflation, which on current figures amounts to a 19% hike, and for the government to fill a record number of staff vacancies that, it argues, is jeopardizing patient safety.

The number of patients waiting for care has meanwhile sky-rocketed, a years-long trend that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Earlier this year, the RCN rejected an offer by the government to increase nurses’ pay by a minimum of £1,400 a year, which amounted to an average rise of 4.3%, well below the rate of inflation.

The impact of the strikes has led parts of the British media to rekindle memories of the so-called Winter of Discontent in 1978 and 1979, when demonstrations brought the UK to a standstill though this year’s level of industrial action constitutes a fraction of those months, where several million working days were lost.

Sunak has been accused by opposition parties of refusing to negotiate with unions in good faith, and not doing enough to prevent strikes from going ahead.

Writing by Tersoo Nicholas