Opinion with Christine Tongue: Why I’d strike if I could

On the picket line

I can’t go on strike,  I’m old and disabled. And who would notice – or care? The government would be secretly cheering if we took ourselves out of their expensive support systems.

But we decrepit pensioners have good enough reason!  Disabled people and oldies are among the poorest in the country and are suffering worse than anyone from the cost of living crisis. We depend on power for so much – my stair lift gets me upstairs, my scooter gets me out of the house, my reduced mobility means I get cold so my house needs heating.

The old age pension – among the worst Europe– hasn’t taken account of increased food prices. People with heart problems or diabetes or other diseases that mean you can’t fill up on cheap custard creams are finding it hard to eat properly. And of course, no one should have to fill up on cheap starch anyhow.

Through Access Thanet I hear what measures disabled people are taking to mitigate their financial hardship. Several have bought fluffy onesies to keep warm in and share jokey pictures of their cats trying to get in with them. But is it a joke when my friend Anne has to decide that her chest infection is so bad she needs warm air in her house and she’ll worry about the cost later? Or John, who now just heats one room and sleeps in his armchair.

So, I’ve been eternally grateful for the workers who are prepared to go on strike and tell the country what the financial crisis has done to ordinary people.

I’ve managed to get to a few picket lines locally to show my support and thank them for making the fuss that most of us can’t. I’ve scooted to Ramsgate Station to thank rail workers for striking against the cost of living crisis and I’ve  joined our local posties outside Broadstairs sorting office.

I totally understand why it’s important to make a stand about their working conditions as it damages everyone to have untrained or overworked staff in positions of great responsibility.

But the people who need our support most are the NHS workers who are for the first time ever in their history going on strike. It’s not just about nurses having  to use food banks  — that’s bad enough – it’s about the government disrespecting the profession so much nurses  now have to fund  their own training, pay for parking at hospitals, work endless 13 hour shifts because staff shortages are so horrendous that 140,000  vacancies need filling.

Paramedics are also striking. I’ve had several trips in a blue light ambulance — my partner’s heart attack , my friend’s road traffic accident, my father’s final hours, with paramedics keeping them alive,  managing complex equipment  and all the while  being reassuring and helpful to distraught family.

Many are leaving the service. Some are going to help out in GP practices. The paramedic in mine says: “It’s indoors, no heavy lifting, and no attacks from patients!”

It’s a tough life.

My paramedic friend retrained as an occupational therapist after she damaged her knees doing CPR on wet pavements once too often.

So, my reason for trying to support local picket lines is that at last someone is saying enough is enough. They’re speaking on behalf of most of us, but especially for the people who have no voice, the old, the vulnerable — the financially unproductive, the elderly parasites (like me!) Find out where the pickets are and take them cake! And join them too. You’ll be really welcome.

This Wednesday and Thursday (18 and 19 January) nurses in some local NHS organisations, including NHS Trusts, are striking over pay and conditions. Ambulance workers are due to strike on January 23.

Christine Tongue is a member of disability campaign group Access Thanet


  1. For example: teachers’ pay, in real terms, down by 25% in 12 years. Nadhim Zahawi, having been rumbled, is reluctantly going to pay £3,000,000 in tax he was hoping to avoid.
    It certainly is one law for the rich, and another for the poor.

  2. Sadly the 40% of the voting public love the Tories. The other 60% just get screwed by the Tories.

    It’s the same with every Tory government rich get richer. We end up with strikers and riots when the majority have had enough.

    I can remember when Thatcher first came to power she said something along the lines that teachers wont get a pay rise up her. She didnt like the pay rise labour had given teachers.

    Soon the whole country will be on strike.

    It’s wrong to have big companies like Amazon, Google, Manchester utd( registered in Carmen Islands) tory MP’s all paying as little taxes as they can get away with.
    Yet if you owe the taxman 50 quid they hound the live out of you.

    • You obviously “remember” things very differently to what really happened…

      The 1978/1979 ‘Winter of Discontent’ was under Labour PM’s James Callaghan’s government (I was 15/16 at the time, and remember it like yesterday). Part of Thatcher’s victory was down to her promising to crack down on the strikers that the vast majority of working people were sick of.

    • Yes, and it was particularly distressing when they said they were “intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich”. Oh wait a minute; that was Labour!

    • You’re implying that Labour MPs conduct their financial affairs more decently than Conservatives. Google Denis MacShane!

  3. On this mornings Radio 4 news, it was stated that nurses pay has dropped 24% since 2010, thats nearly a quarter of their pay has been cut by Tory governments! But MP’s pay has increased substantially since then, so here’s an idea, cut MP.s pay to what it was in 2010! Here’s another idea, make it so that all essential workers don’t pay income tax! That would put thousands in their pockets overnight, and they can still go on strike for better conditions! For instance would you like to travel on a train late at night with no Guard? Thats what this Tory government plan on doing, having trains with no guards, Duurh!

  4. Well said Christine. We must support these workers fighting for fair pay and their rights. The unions must and are fighting for all workers and ultimately for us all.

    • Average train drive salary in the UK is £51,500. Not bad and if … IF a driver already owns their home outright / has a small mortgage / no children or just one / a partner who works etc. etc. then their standard of living should be okay. But not every driver fits that profile.
      When travelling by train I’d like to think that the driver has had a good night’s kip somewhere comfortable, is not hungry, is not stressed to high heaven, is in good health.
      Well actually I don’t usually think about it but I am now because what does £51,000 actually mean in terms of fitness to do a highly responsible job and keep the public safe? With the costs of housing and high prices generally, it’s a start and that’s all. I can easily understand that this sector, like many others, needs higher pay.

      • Don’t worry, no one on a grand a week is hungry. And on Southeastern, drivers’ salaries range from £58K to £62K.

  5. Better move to France, Christine. Workers are striking there today, in protest at the proposals to raise the retirement age. Why didn’t OUR workers do that, or don’t they care about old wrinklies like me?

  6. Organise a protest on behalf of wrinklies and we’ll all join you. The current strikes are on behalf of us all.

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