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Posted on 20 May 2011 at 15:12 GMT

NHS demo in London needs to be a step towards united national strike action

March to save the NHS, photo Paul Mattsson

March to save the NHS, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

2,000 people marched with London 'Keep Our NHS Public' on Tuesday 17 May. Several NHS trusts across London have announced big cuts.

For example, Barts hospital and the London hospital in the East End plan to cut 635 jobs.

The Royal Free hospital in West London plans 450 job cuts. It has just been announced that Whipps Cross hospital in East London plans to cut over 140.

The government may claim to have paused their plans in order to 'listen', but on the ground there is no pause. Whole community units have closed, such as services for eating disorders in south London.

The demonstration brought together nurses, porters, domestics, doctors, student nurses, medical students, therapists and mental health nurses. At the Socialist Party stalls, a constant stream of health workers and passers-by stopped to sign our petition calling for united action to defend the NHS, involving trade unions, anti-cuts campaigns and services users.

Demonstrations like this are important. But everyone on the demonstration knew that more serious action is needed to defend the NHS.

Whether or not the Health and Social Services Bill goes through, the cuts, closures and privatisation will continue.

But the Bill proposes worse: in effect, that the government will no longer have a legal duty to provide the health service in England. As David Cameron's senior health adviser, Mark Britnell, has blurted out, instead of being a provider of a universal health service, the state will be the provider of health insurance.

Therefore what is also important is a clear, determined strategy.

The National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) leaflets, which were snapped up by marchers, laid out what is necessary. It was the pressure of the organised working class which led to the creation of the NHS in the first place, and it is the potential power of millions of trade unionists linked up with patients and communities that can defend the NHS now.

The NSSN leaflet said: "A real strategy of strike action, starting with health workers and reaching out for support to the wider union movement, would really put the Con-Dems in the corner".

It is important that trade unionists argue for this strategy, as there are risks with the approach of some health campaigns at the moment. Just as it was a mistake, made by some local anti-cuts alliances, to promote Labour councillors who were voting for cuts as 'leaders' of the anti-cuts movement, so it is also a mistake to foster illusions in Labour politicians who have supported the previous Labour government's policies on the NHS.

The fight to defend the NHS is a fight against marketisation, PFI and all such policies pursued with vigour by the Labour government.

As Len Hockey, Socialist Party member and Unison joint branch secretary at Whipps Cross hospital (speaking in a personal capacity) explained to the demonstration, there has been cross-party consensus (between the three main political parties) to dismantle and privatise the NHS.

We need the strength of organised workers in united national strike action to fight to reverse all cuts and privatisations and bring about a fully-funded, integrated and democratically planned NHS.

Len urged all the marchers to attend the National Shop Stewards Network conference on Saturday 11 June. The issue of the NHS will be an essential part of the conference and the event will be an opportunity for health activists to come together to discuss a serious strategy.

Paula Mitchell, London Socialist Party

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 2011-05-20 15:12:15 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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