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From The Socialist newspaper, 14 September 2006

Fighting NHS cuts and privatisation...

United action can win!

LAST WEEKEND was a weekend of protest to save the National Health Service. 400 marched in Sheffield, 2,000 in Plymouth, and the largest demonstration was in Grantham, where 9,000 came out to save their local hospital.

Lois Austin

More protests are planned across the country over the coming weeks as wards and hospitals close or are threatened with closure and thousands of NHS jobs are lost.

And now the biggest strike in the NHS for 18 years will take place just before Labour Party conference. 74% of those who took part in a ballot against privatisation of NHS Logistics voted for strike action.

These workers are angry that the government is forcing through the privatisation of the stores and supplies - one of the best performing parts of the NHS - worth 3.7 billion over the next ten years.

NHS Logistics is due to be handed over to the private courier firm DHL on 1 October. The Logistics workers' struggle, if successful, like the Waltham Forest health workers' strike over wages and conditions, will give confidence to other health workers to take action.

Unfortunately, the national trade union leaders have responded too slowly to this threatened privatisation. However, under the pressure from the Logistics workers, the first strike will probably take place on 21 September.

Given the national anger over the government's ripping up of the NHS, the Logistics strike could act as the catalyst which unites the disparate local struggles into a more united and organised national campaign. These workers need the support and solidarity of other health workers and campaigners urgently to ensure they defeat privatisation, and rallies and meetings should be organised up and down the country.

The anger of workers is increasing throughout the health service. Wakefield Unison health branch is to hold a ballot for industrial action against the threat of compulsory redundancies. In Whipps Cross hospital in Waltham Forest porters, cleaners and other ancillary workers have held eight days of industrial action over wages and conditions.

The heat is definitely being turned on the government. And protesting and demonstrating works. In Wiltshire, the health authority has announced a one-year reprieve for five of the six hospitals up for closure. This is after just one demonstration against hospital closures. The campaigns have to now develop a strategy of joint community and health worker action to save the hospitals in that county for the long term.

The struggle against hospital closures and privatisation is urgent. Local campaigns are springing up everywhere, particularly in the South West where hospitals are being closed. Where campaigns don't exist they need to be set up. Joint meetings, protests and demonstrations of health workers, patients and the wider community need to be organised everywhere. We are encouraging a large 'save our NHS' contingent on the demonstration at Labour Party conference in Manchester.

Pressure should be brought to bear on regional health trade unions to hold regional demonstrations like the one in Leicester on 23 September.

But all of these campaigns urgently need a national focus for the struggle to defend the NHS to develop and be capable of defeating the government - similar to the structures and national focus built by the anti-poll tax campaigners.

National demo

Under pressure from below, the health unions and TUC have set a timetable of action. This is a step forward, but so far there is very little detail and no dates for action apart from a lobby of parliament on 25 October and a national demo in February. But we need a national demonstration this side of Christmas. By next February many of the cuts will have been carried out

Keep Our NHS Public (KONHSP) which has done good work in raising the issues around NHS reform, should call a national demonstration in the autumn if the unions won't.

Of course, it is preferable that the TUC utilise its authority and call a national demonstration but it has been dragging its heels. KONHSP should of course campaign for the TUC to back any demonstration they call.

However, the mood of anger that has swept the country is such that a national demonstration, even without official TUC backing, could mobilise thousands onto the streets of London.

Campaigners should build to make the UNISON lobby of Parliament a success. But some campaigners are frustrated that a lobby will not have the same appeal as a big public display on the streets of central London of health workers and campaigners opposed to cuts and privatisation.

This is why some local campaigners have initiated a feeder march to the lobby and are calling on other campaigners and health workers to join with them. The Socialist Party will do everything it can to make this as successful as possible.

Given the anger which exists, we think that many people will be moved to join this feeder march and in that way raise the pressure on the union leaders to call a national demonstration this year.

It is possible that the National Health Service could become Tony Blair's poll tax. For that to happen the anger which exists needs to be galvanised into a national campaign that is prepared to build mass protests and industrial action around the country.

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In The Socialist 14 September 2006:

Socialist Party NHS campaign

United action can win!

NHS Logistics workers vote to strike against privatisation

Our prescription - a socialist NHS!

Opposition forces Trusts to retreat

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