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National demo needed to save our NHS
A North London health worker
The coalition government with little opposition from Labour are closer than ever to transferring our National Health Service to the money grabbing private sector who will enrich themselves still further.
At the recent Save Our NHS rally at Westminster Central Hall, health workers listened to a succession of trade union leaders such as Trades Union Congress general secretary Brendan Barber speak about the dangers of the Con-Dems' Health and Social Care Bill. Yet it quickly became clear to the 2,000 people gathered inside and 70,000 watching live on the internet, that no concrete steps for resistance would be put forward.
The mood in the hall became increasingly one of frustration as the speakers' lack of appetite for action became clear.
Several groups of campaigners, nurses and other health staff began chanting 'national demo now' and one group unfurled a banner calling for a general strike to save the NHS. The response of the organisers was to eject most of the dissenters from the meeting!
The most enthusiastic ovation was given to the health campaigner June Hautot, the scourge of Con-Dem health minister Andrew Lansley. Perhaps Barber and Unison leader Dave Prentis should ask June for some campaign advice!
The Labour Party is unwilling to participate in meaningful resistance to even the worst attacks of the Tories. It criticises the 'Tory coalition' from the sidelines while waiting for the next general election.
Meanwhile Labour-led councils claim they have 'no choice' but to implement cuts on behalf of the government, instead of fighting for the needed funding.
Voting in parliament has failed to defeat this bill. It is now time for those who need a publicly owned NHS to take decisive action through their unions and anti-cuts groups.
Opposition has instead come from health campaigners and NHS workers. During 2011, these groups were largely met with indifference when trying to enlist the support of the official leaders of the labour movement and struggled to get the attention of the media as to the real meaning of this bill.
If the leaders of the trade union movement lifted their collective little fingers they could have a million people on the streets within weeks to protect the NHS from the profiteering, cuts in services and 'Americanisation' that the Health and Social Care Bill represents.
Such a campaign would also hold some dangers for the Labour Party. Labour's shadow health secretary Andy Burnham was among the TUC rally's speakers.
Yet several former Labour health secretaries are now sitting on the boards of large private health and health insurance multinationals.
No wonder - the 1997-2010 Labour governments introduced 'reforms', ie cuts and privatisation, in the NHS including the outsourcing of non-medical services and Private Finance Initiative deals. No group understands the conversion to free market economics by the Labour Party better than health workers!
But as recent remarks by Unite leader Len McCluskey and disquiet within the GMB union demonstrate - a quarter of conference motions question the union's links to the Labour Party - the labour movement and the Labour Party are not one and the same.
While the Labour Party continues to act as a brake on our movement its influence is under challenge. Unite, Unison and the GMB should stop funding the Labour Party and instead stand and support anti-cuts candidates.
Our task is to increase the pressure within trade unions for mass action to repeal the bill, prepare the ground in local areas for dogged and determined resistance to service closures and link trade unions to campaign groups.
We must also discuss and develop approaches to the question of occupations and other bold action where hospital closures are being threatened. To misquote Elvis we need 'a little more conversation and a lot more action'!
The Socialist Party demands:
- No to cuts. For a publicly funded service, free at the point of use, to provide for everyone's health needs
- End big business profiteering from the NHS! Scrap the costly Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes. No to private polyclinics and GP consortiums. Axe the bill
- End 'payment by results'. Take all health services and buildings back from big business and place them under public ownership. Publicly fund and integrate them with the rest of the NHS
- Nationalise the pharmaceutical and medical supply industries and private health providers, with compensation only on the basis of proven need. Bring them under working class control and management
- Abolish Foundation Trusts. For democratic control of local health services by elected health workers and community representatives as well as elected representatives from local and national government
- End NHS job losses and low pay
- For a massive trade union-led struggle to defend the NHS
- For a new mass workers' party to fight for the NHS and against cuts and privatisation. For socialist policies and a planned economy to end poverty, bad housing, unemployment, pollution and inequality - the biggest killers and causes of ill-health
In The Socialist 15 March 2012:
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