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NHS still needs national demo
NEARLY 300 people packed out the Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) conference on 20 January. Pensioners, 'Save the NHS' groups and health workers attended, representing the thousands who have marched in towns and villages across the country.
Many went to the conference looking for a national focus, a unifying force to take us to the next stage in the fight against New Labour to save the NHS.
Sadly, that is not what we got. The KONP leaders have done a good job in waging an ideological war against NHS privatisation and a new KONP pamphlet outlines the case well. But the leadership's understanding of how to build a mass campaign capable of winning a struggle, is unfortunately lacking.
The speakers from the KONP steering committee failed to map out a way of marrying the ideological struggle against cuts, closures and privatisation with a strategy to develop mass action.
The mood of anger displayed around the country, with thousands on the streets, is measure enough of the need for a national demonstration and the response that the call for one, by an organisation like KONP, could get. But much to many delegates' chagrin, fighting speeches were not matched with a militant plan for action. The steering committee refused to have any resolutions discussed and would not let any votes be taken.
JACKIE GRUNSELL, a GP and Socialist Party member in Huddersfield, elected to Kirklees council as a 'save our NHS' candidate last May, was told she could not move a resolution for KONP to call a demonstration in London on 3 March as a step to a bigger national demonstration in the near future. Despite this, the conference was dominated anyway by discussion about a national demonstration.
Eventually Dr John Lister, health academic and a founding member of KONP was called in to explain why KONP could not call one. He said only the trade unions and in particular UNISON, could call a national demonstration and get a respectable turnout. The KONP leaders would not go beyond support for local activity on 3 March that the regional health unions are supposed to be organising.
IT WOULD be infinitely preferable if the health unions use their authority to organise a mass struggle to defend the NHS, by calling a demonstration backed up by industrial action. We must continue to put maximum pressure on the union leaders to do this and build the confidence of NHS staff to take industrial action in defence of their jobs and conditions and against privatisation.
But what should be done when the trade union leaders try to stop a struggle from developing? The leaders of UNISON and the other big unions linked to New Labour knew that the PUSH (People United Saving Hospitals) campaign had already named 3 March for a national demonstration and they were determined to prevent it.
The union-organised London NHS Together campaign has cancelled its booking for Trafalgar Square on that day. The union leaders are petrified of upsetting New Labour in the run-up to local elections and of unleashing a national movement that challenges the government.
Like the anti-poll tax campaign and the 'stop the war' movement we therefore have to organise as best we can at a local and national level, continually linking up with rank and file trade unionists who want to save the NHS.
We can build a campaign from the ground up which is broad, democratic and brings everybody together at a national event to discuss a fighting programme for escalating the struggle. That should include calling a national demonstration.
London KONP will lobby the meeting of London NHS Together on 25 January, demanding they call a demonstration. If they do not, then London KONP should call a demonstration, like they did with the National Pensioners Convention and other groups on 1 November 2006. They can then invite everyone from around the country who wants a national demonstration to join them.
London KONP also plans to lobby a London UNISON AGM on 1 February.
In addition to this, all who want a national demonstration should hold another national meeting to discuss how to unify the NHS campaigns and agree a common strategy.
The very future of the NHS depends on seizing the time now and capitalising on the mood which exists around the country.
In The Socialist 25 January 2007:
War and terrorism
Socialist Party news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
International socialist news and analysis