This is an audio transcript of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: ‘Britain’s nurses launch historic strike’

Sonja Hutson
Good morning from the Financial Times. Today is Friday, December 16th, and this is your FT News Briefing.

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Global stock markets took a dive after a wave of interest rate rises. Nurses in the UK launched a historic strike.

Unidentified speaker
So many times we go to work, I go to work and then I go home knowing that I delivered suboptimal care. And that’s not from a lack of trying, it’s just from a lack of resources.

Sonja Hutson
Plus, Argentineans have a brief respite from their economic frustrations.

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I’m Sonja Hutson, in for Marc Filippino, and here’s the news you need to start your day.

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Global stocks tumbled yesterday. Europe’s leading equity index slid nearly three per cent. The S&P 500 fell about two and a half per cent. The drops came after several major central banks raised interest rates. The European Central Bank lifted its benchmark rate half a per cent, as did the Swiss Central Bank and the Bank of England. This all came after the Federal Reserve raised rates on Wednesday and stocks barely moved. Here’s the FT’s Kate Duguid.

Kate Duguid
We actually didn’t have a huge sell-off in stocks in the United States on Wednesday. In part because the market has been a little bit sceptical that the Fed will hold their ground in the face of rising unemployment, slowing growth. But on Thursday, the ECB in particular was extremely hawkish and they said that they were expecting to continue to lift interest rates by 0.5 percentage points, right? We had other central banks around the world also sort of reaffirming its hawkishness. And so it was at that point that the message maybe started to sink in a little bit more in the United States. Certainly, markets in Europe and elsewhere were reacting to central banks as that happened. You know, we saw the biggest reaction in Europe where the ECB was sort of the most hawkish out of all these central banks.

Sonja Hutson
Kate Duguid is the FT’s US capital markets correspondent.

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Labour strikes have erupted across the UK. Workers are struggling with inflation and falling standards of living. Rail workers have gone on strike. So have postal workers. And yesterday, nurses launched a historic first day of strikes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The FT’s Josh Gabert-Doyon went to a picket line in London to find out more. He joins me now. Hi, Josh.

Josh Gabert-Doyon
Hey, how’s it going?

Sonja Hutson
So tell me a little bit about where you went and what you saw.

Josh Gabert-Doyon
So I went to St Thomas’s hospital where there was a picket. This is right on Westminster Bridge across from the Houses of Parliament. And it was a freezing cold day. Really sunny out, but just blistering cold. There’s about 50 people on the picket line when I went and a lot of honking cars coming by.

Unidentified speaker
(Honking) Wooooh!

Josh Gabert-Doyon
It was a pretty joyous scene. There was coffee and tea being, you know, given out. But people were there because they were upset.

Sonja Hutson
You talked to some nurses while you were there. What did they tell you?

Josh Gabert-Doyon
Nurses there told me that they were striking for a pay rise. They’re looking for a 19 per cent pay rise, which maybe seems like a lot. But when you consider that the retail price index, which is one of the indices for inflation, is pretty high already, I mean, it’s only 5 per cent over inflation. What they were saying basically was that pay is pretty low and that’s forcing a lot of people out of the profession.

Unidentified speaker
Our profession has been chronically underfunded for years and this is seeing experienced staff leave the profession. We’re having issues with recruitment and retention because they’re not supported.

Sonja Hutson
Josh, why is this strike so significant and why is it happening now?

Josh Gabert-Doyon
The National Health Service has a lot of support. It’s a pretty beloved public institution. And after the pandemic, you know, you had clapping for NHS workers that was going on. And the fact that the Government is not willing to take into account what the nurses are asking for in terms of pay increase, I think it’s seen as a big kind of signal of how bad the cost of living has gotten. And, you know, the Royal College of Nursing are saying that this is the largest strike they’ve had in their history. So I think it’s putting a lot of pressure on the government.

Sonja Hutson
Yeah. How has the government responded to the strike?

Josh Gabert-Doyon
Yeah. So the government had a chance to come to the table over pay negotiations earlier this week, but it turned it down. The government’s health and social care secretary has said that an independent review body has already given its suggested pay increase, which is between four and five per cent, and the government won’t negotiate anymore. The government is saying basically that the pay increase that the nurses union is demanding is just too high. Nurses are angry about that. They’re angry about the fact that the government isn’t willing to come back to the table. So they’re trying to put pressure on them.

Unidentified speaker
Strikes are meant to be disruptive, but that’s the whole point of it. But we’ve ensured that staffing levels are at a bare minimum to arrive that patient-centred care.

Sonja Hutson
So do we have any sense of how long the strike might go on for?

Josh Gabert-Doyon
Royal College of Nursing organisers say that they’re ready to continue with the strikes as long as their demands aren’t met. I asked Anita Roberts, a nurse who’d been with the NHS for more than 20 years. She was on the picket line at St Thomas’s Hospital, how she felt about that.

Are you prepared for a long strike?

Anita Roberts
Ummmm. Hopefully not. I hope things get better. And because, you know, I’m not really happy to be, you know, to go on strike because I have signed to care for people. But I am left with no choice but to strike. So I hope this will be the first and the last.

Sonja Hutson
That’s FT audio producer Josh Gabert-Doyon in London, reporting on the nursing union’s historic walkout. Thanks, Josh.

Josh Gabert-Doyon
Thanks.

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Sonja Hutson
Argentineans are regularly on the street voicing frustrations about the economy, the country’s debt troubles and inflation. And to add to that, last week, the vice-president and former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was convicted on corruption charges. But for a change, people didn’t really seem to care.

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And that’s why. Argentina defeated Croatia and now heads to the Fifa World Cup Championship. You’ve just heard the sound of soccer fans at a bar in Buenos Aires chanting the name of their superstar player, Lionel Messi. The FT’s Lucinda Elliott says the country is so absorbed in the World Cup, nothing else mattered.

Lucinda Elliott
And then as soon as the tournament kicked off, the labour ministers said, you know, the efforts to bring down inflation would be dealt with in a month’s time because the priority was to win the World Cup.

Sonja Hutson
And what happens if Argentina does beat France on Sunday to win the World Cup? Will the country ever turn its attention back to its economic problems?

Lucinda Elliott
I would argue that people are aware of their situation and that this is a moment, really a breather, that possibly will wear off quite quickly. Morphine for their sickness, as one fan actually described to me, this sort of irrational joy, this pride and relief really from these issues after, as I say. I mean, one of the strictest and longest lockdowns anywhere in the world was in Buenos Aires in 2020. An economy that’s been more or less in decline for coming on a decade, dysfunctional policies that don’t amount to anything. And now there’s this glorious moment where Argentines are kind of back up there with a role model who’s adored all over the world. Not just in Argentina. You know, Lionel Messi is theirs, which having lived here, they do sort of care about what others think of them. And it’s a shared moment. That’s certainly something that stood out to me in these weeks.

Sonja Hutson
That’s the FT’s Lucinda Elliott.

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You can read more on all these stories at FT.com. This has been your daily FT News Briefing. Make sure you check back next week for the latest business news. The FT News Briefing is produced by Marc Filippino, Fiona Symon and me, Sonja Hutson. Our editor is Jess Smith. We had help this week from David da Silva, Michael Lello and Gavin Kallmann. Our executive producer is Topher Forhecz. Cheryl Brumley is the FT’s global head of audio. And our theme song is by Metaphor Music.

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