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NHS workers' protests
Determined to build action to save the NHS
Paula Mitchell, Socialist Party workplace and industrial organiser
On Saturday 3 July, in towns and cities all over the country, NHS workers were joined by their local communities on protests to defend the NHS from privatisation and for a decent pay rise, rejecting the 1% insult the Tories have proposed. We support the health workers' campaigning for a 15% rise.
In many cases, Socialist Party members helped to initiate and organise the protests. Our speakers and our leaflets laid out a clear strategy. We said that NHS workers, organised in trade unions and backed up by community campaigns, can build a mighty movement.
We demanded that the leaders of the trade unions lead - prepare for coordinated strike action on pay and to save the NHS.
The very next day the Tories delivered a second slap in the face to NHS workers with their declaration that they will proceed with their new health and care bill.
If it is like the White Paper, it will mean an extension of privatisation in the NHS, a reduction in the already very limited democratic oversight, and further steps towards the break-up of a national service.
This is the reward for 16 months of NHS staff working themselves to exhaustion to save lives. More juicy contracts bunged to the Tories' big business mates with even less scrutiny and transparency than before.
Disgracefully, the main health union Unison did not back the protests, and so it was left to local trade unionists and campaigners. But now, following a shift to the left on Unison's national executive council (NEC) in the recent elections, there is the chance for that to change.
At the protest in central London on Saturday, hospital worker, newly elected member of Unison's NEC, and Socialist Party member Naomi Byron, put out the call, in a personal capacity, for Unison to organise a demonstration outside Parliament when the health and care bill is discussed. She also outlined how the union should coordinate with other unions and campaigns to organise a national demonstration in the autumn against the Tory bill, and to help build the campaign on pay.
This campaign for action has to be allied to a campaign for a genuine working-class political voice. Keir Starmer's Labour has clearly demonstrated its determination to wipe out any vestige of the fighting programme on the NHS that Jeremy Corbyn stood for, and that enthused so many.
NHS workers, like workers in all other sectors, need political representation - a new mass party of working-class and young people, with a fighting socialist programme for the NHS and care, and for jobs, homes and services for all.
Waltham Forest, east London
Socialist Party members in Waltham Forest took part in the protest outside Whipps Cross Hospital. The protest was initiated and organised by Waltham Forest Trades Council after Len Hockey, a Socialist Party member and Unite branch secretary at Barts Health NHS Trust, moved a motion calling for a local protest. Unite Barts supported the protest and distributed leaflets to all its members and hospital staff.
Over 80 people gathered outside the junction to the hospital. Whipps Cross workers have a history of strikes, picket lines and victories against the effects of privatisation. Unite Barts has also been involved in a strike at the Royal London Hospital.
The support for the NHS was felt as many car drivers tooted and raised their fists in the air. Kevin Parslow, assistant general secretary of the trades council, introduced the open mic, highlighting the important role of the trade union movement in fighting to save our NHS. Len Hockey spoke next and called for a 15% pay rise for NHS workers.
We also had Socialist Party members James Ivens and Sarah Sachs -Eldridge, outline our programme for a socialist NHS, and put forward our call for a protest on the day the new Tory health bill goes to parliament.
In Leeds, Michael Johnson, care sector worker and Socialist Party member, addressed protesters. He echoed health workers' demand for a 15% pay rise, and asked: "Where is the Pay Review Body?" Another question came from an NHS worker: "Have we given only 1% effort?" The answer: "No!"
Adrian O'Malley, Wakefield Socialist Party and Unison health service group executive member (in a personal capacity), added grit with a fighting speech, challenging the trade union bureaucracy to get off their backsides - shaming them for not uniting for a substantial pay rise. He added that if Johnson refused the NHS staff demand for a decent pay rise, it was time for strikes and solidarity.
UCLH, central London
Naomi Byron, outsourced hospital worker, Socialist Party member and newly elected member of Unison's national executive council (in a personal capacity), spoke to the crowd of 500 who protested outside of University College Hospital London and marched through central London.
She said: "It is clear that asking nicely, and having reasoned arguments, is not enough. The government is determined to push through an incredibly insulting pay offer for NHS staff.
"They are also planning to push through the health and care bill to increase privatisation and break up more parts of the NHS. Our response to these attacks needs to be just as determined, if not more so. Because there are a lot more of us, and if we unite and campaign together, we have much more power than the government."
150 attended the NHS support rally in Manchester demanding patient safety, decent pay and a reversal of privatisation. People gathered to voice their demands and to celebrate our NHS. Worker after worker spoke about their passion for the service, their need for decent pay, and their fears for the future of the NHS under a Tory government. All described a chronic lack of staff and the erosion of services.
A small but lively protest marched from Newcastle's RVI hospital to the Monument. As we assembled, cars passing by tooted horns in support, and as we marched down Northumberland Street shoppers were clapping and putting their thumbs up in support of the demo.
There was a real anger against Boris Johnson and this rotten Tory government. People were angry at the hypocrisy of Matt Hancock, many mentioned Cummings too. There's one rule for them, and another for the rest of us.
People can see we're going to have to fight to save the NHS.
In Sheffield, Socialist Party member Holly Johnson played a leading role in organising the action as part of 'NHS Workers Say No', backed up by 25 other Socialist Party members on the protest. Holly was interviewed by ITV news and her message was broadcast to the Yorkshire region: "NHS workers are getting more and more angry, more and more fed-up. Over the last decade there has been no right time for a pay rise for the NHS, and the average staff nurse is down by 20% in real terms."
150 people marched from the Old Market Square in Nottingham to Forest Recreation Ground as part of a protest called by two local NHS Unison branches. Jean Thorpe, chair of Notts and Mansfield Trades Union Council and a Socialist Party member, spoke at the rally. She explained the need for a 15% pay rise, and the importance of defending and reinstating the NHS.
Nottingham Socialist Party
Protesters gathered outside York Minster in support of NHS workers. They were headed by Socialist Party members in the National Shop Stewards Network, and joined by York and Scarborough Defend Our NHS. Protesters made their voices heard, and added to the crescendo of rallies across the country.
NHS workers and supporters made impassioned speeches and decried more than a decade of Tory negligence. Members of the Socialist Party spoke of the need for solidarity and trade union action in support of the NHS. A nurse spoke of the damning indictment that highly trained nurses are forced to resort to food banks to feed their families.
Perhaps the sentiment was best summed up by a woman of 73, who spoke of the impact the NHS has had in her life, of what limited support had passed for health care before, and of her hopes for the future.
Doctors could take industrial action
The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors in the UK and led strike action by junior doctors in 2016, has announced it is prepared to take action in response to the government's 1% NHS pay offer.
Members of the BMA could be balloted for industrial action, including an overtime ban of consultants if the government doesn't make a decent pay offer. Action by any section of the NHS workforce on pay, and even over bullying, like in the recent Royal London Hospital dispute, can give huge confidence to other workers to struggle and put pressure on other trade union leaders to lead.
Leaders of the BMA and other health unions should be coming together to draw up a battle plan for united action to take on the government.
- The following reports were not able to be published in the print edition of the Socialist.
In Reading the NHS birthday celebrations had an added impetus as hospital security workers are on strike again from 12 July over low pay. Unite organised the march and rally with around 60 people taking part. There were many speakers including the Labour MP and Labour councillors, correctly giving support to the strikers against low pay and outsourcing. Of course, they don't mention that they are responsible for the same problems in council services!
But there were also other speakers such as Adam Gillman from Youth Fight for jobs who put forward demands against all job cuts. He argued for real training and decent apprenticeship schemes for young people, with the right to a decent job at the end of training.
Sara Gillman, a community nurse, spoke about low pay and the horrendous conditions NHS workers have to work under, and said that unions need to take a fighting stance and that we need a new mass workers' party.
The Sheffield rally and demo was loud and energetic. Over 150 marched down Division Street with banners from Sheffield Save Our NHS, PCS, Sheffield Trades Council, GMB, UNISON, RCN, NHS Workers Say No and the Socialist Party. The march was welcomed by football fans readying themselves for the England game who were chanting "NHS forever". Another fan shouted: "The NHS is coming home!"
Holly Johnston, a ward sister and organiser of the rally, outlined the exhaustion and lack of staff on the wards. She detailed findings from a recent report on the lack of correct PPE and safety masks still within hospitals. Holly called for: an urgent, restorative, 15% pay rise; improved safety to ensure the NHS and care workers are protected; and that staff shortages are dealt with by a recruitment plan based on a 15% pay rise.
NHS workers, and other supporters, left the rally and demonstration with a smile, invigorated by the day and very hoarse from all the chanting, but determined to go back into the workplaces to build support and action for the NHS.
Mick Suter, Chair of SSONHS
25 Socialist Party members took part in the protest in Sheffield. After the speeches by various groups, all united for the NHS and socialist policies, the majority of the crowd wanted to march. The support for the NHS was incredible both from those in attendance, and from bystanders. There were drivers honking their horns with a show of thumbs up in support, passing walkers clapped and cheered in support.
Over one hundred people took part in Chesterfield to support a 15% pay rise for NHS workers rather than the insulting 1% that is on offer. The speaker from Nurses United spoke about how shortages forced staff to reuse PPE which would have added to the death rate for health care staff. The NHS saves our lives everyday not just during a pandemic. Medals and claps do not add a penny to the wages of healthcare workers who have lost up to 20% of their pay, or stop cut backs in NHS funding.
Members of Devon Socialist Party supported the protest against the insulting 1% NHS pay offer in the centre of Exeter. Exeter Trades Union Council and Keep Our NHS Public were also present. Our campaign stall reflected a certain mood in that we sold 15 papers and donations came in at £65! Those who stopped to sign our petition and donate reflect the disgust at the pay offer, and support for our fighting socialist programme.
About 30-40 people took part in Saturday's protest rally in Carlisle city centre, many had been mobilised by the campaigning that the Socialist Party had done in advance. Our stall had a steady stream of shoppers signing our petition and taking leaflets. 16 people bought a copy of the Socialist.
A nurse from the Cumberland Infirmary addressed the crowd to explain the demands in our leaflet which had been distributed among hospital workers. Another health worker spoke in favour of the call for a 15% pay rise and a GMB health branch secretary from Bolton, here on holiday, thanked the public for their solidarity.
Worcester Socialist Party were out in the city centre campaigning for a 15% pay rise for NHS staff. We had lots of interest from the youth of Worcester who were championing what we're doing and supporting socialist ideas.
In The Socialist 5 July 2021:
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The Struggle for World Socialism