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Trade union action needed to protect London NHS
Barts Trust bosses sack union chair
Waltham Forest Socialist Party members
The campaign to stop £77.5 million worth of cuts in Barts Health NHS Trust has entered a new phase.
Last week the trust dismissed Waltham Forest Unison Health branch chair Charlotte Monro on a trumped up charge of gross misconduct.
This pattern is an all too familiar one: an employer wants to make draconian cuts, it calculates that if it attacks the union leaders this will frighten any oppositional voices into silence. However, opposition has not been silenced.
The workers and the community in Waltham Forest, and the workers at the borough's hospital, Whipps Cross, have proved time and time again that they are willing to fight back against cuts that could result in the closure of our local general hospital if we don't stop them.
The Unison health branch has organised two packed local meetings of over 100, a workers' gate protest of over 200 and a local demo of over 700.
There has been an indicative ballot which delivered a 98.8% yes vote for strike action to stop the cuts.
The community and the workforce are chomping at the bit for united, decisive action to halt the down-bandings, cuts and victimisation.
There is every possibility that, if Unison's London region gave a lead and permitted a strike ballot for all Trust union members, cuts could be stopped and Charlotte could be reinstated on appeal.
Charlotte's only 'crime' was to speak publicly against the stroke unit being moved from Whipps Cross.
We would argue that this is not only her right but her duty as Unison branch chair in the hospital.
The employer has gone after her because things that were everyday trade union behaviour in the past become intolerable to employers who want to drive through cuts of £77.5 million.
During investigations and disciplinary hearings some may feel they should lie low, not attract too much attention and let "justice" take its course in the belief that logic will prevail.
Public campaign needed
But the Socialist always argued for a public campaign to defend Charlotte, that the workers should be balloted to defend their activist, that virtually nothing is won at the negotiating table - or in the courtroom - without it being won on the battlefield first.
The victories secured in the high court in Lewisham hospital were preceded by a local demo of 30,000 people.
Those 30,000 people will be needed again if Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt changes the law to undo this brilliant victory.
Every tool in our armoury must be used to stop the decimation of our NHS. We must have mass demonstrations, legal challenges and occupations, but it is the workforce that must play the decisive role in defending their jobs, union reps and our services for any lasting victory.
Hunt's West London A&E closures
The dismantling of NHS services in west London continues apace, despite the attempted spin by Con-Dem government representatives to the contrary.
Health minister Jeremy Hunt last week accepted 'in full' proposals to centralise A&E services at five rather than nine hospitals in west London - signalling the closure of A&Es at Central Middlesex and Hammersmith hospitals 'as soon as practicable'.
Forced into making at least an appearance of listening to the massive outpouring of local opposition to his plans, Hunt announced that accident and emergency services would continue at Ealing and Charing Cross hospitals.
However, since he also stated that these units would be a 'different shape and size' - and that it is clear that this does not mean bigger and better - it is questionable how much of a victory this really represents.
Above all, no guarantees have been given for the future of clinical services at either Ealing or Charing Cross, and preparations for the transfer of services and sell-off of land are continuing.
Given this, it appears that the proposed accident and emergency departments will in reality only be minor injuries units.
Local residents have been battling for over 20 years to maintain and improve NHS provision in the area, and that battle will need to continue and intensify.
Above all, it will be necessary to involve hospital workers to campaign and fight alongside local service users in order to develop such a campaign.
This needs to be expanded to cover the whole of West London. The local Socialist Party campaigns for:
- No partial or total closure of any A&E services in West London
- One unified campaign in West London to ensure that hospitals are not played off against the others - stand together or hang separately!
- A mass meeting of staff from all four affected hospitals, to ensure they are united and integrated into the campaign
- Trade unions to organise strike action supported by the anti-cuts campaigns and service users
- No to the privatisation of our health service - stop the PFI fiasco and kick out the profiteers
- Rebuild the NHS as a publicly funded entity, under democratic control of the staff, patients and the general public
- For an electoral alternative, through the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, to challenge the cuts agenda in town halls and parliament, by standing candidates at the next local council elections
Sullivan Roberts, West London Socialist Party
Lewisham hospital gets second court victory
But battle to stop cuts must continue
A south London nurse
Lewisham NHS workers and campaigners won a second court victory on 29 October, stopping Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt from cutting A&E and maternity services at the hospital.
Lewisham's population of 250,000 played a key role in pushing the Labour-run council to mount a legal challenge. Tens of thousands joined protests last November and in January.
At a huge Save Lewisham Hospital public meeting last autumn, Socialist Party member and ex-Lewisham councillor Chris Flood demanded a legal challenge as well as industrial action.
The legal action showed that bankrupt South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT) had no right to raid the pocket of neighbouring Lewisham hospital to clear debts accrued through the business-friendly but services-hostile Private Finance Initiative (PFI).
The challenge was upheld in July and Jeremy Hunt's actions had been deemed unlawful. Hunt inevitably appealed - costing £92,000 in public money - but lost last week.
However the law is now being amended. Legislation is being rushed through parliament giving bankrupt NHS administrators the legal right to raid the funds of neighbouring trusts to bail out costly PFI hospitals.
But the £200 million PFI debts at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich have now been written off. Why can't all PFI be scrapped?
At the same time, SLHT was dissolved on 1 October. As a result, Queen Elizabeth has now been merged with Lewisham hospital to form Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust - which will no doubt result in more cuts. 50 jobs have gone already.
So Lewisham hospital is not out of the woods yet and nor are other hospitals in the area.
Health unions at Lewisham hospital, especially Unison, need to organise and link up with sister union branches in other hospital trusts, and with patients and campaigners to be ready for the next tranche of attacks.
NHS campaigns would become much stronger with the industrial muscle of trade unionists in their ranks.
Defenders of the health service cannot trust in Labour politicians' promises to save us. Under Labour, the NHS came under attack as well.
We cannot rely forever on the legal system alone or on promises from career politicians to save our NHS.
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In The Socialist 6 November 2013:
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