Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/457/5482
Action is the only answer to NHS cuts
ISSUE AFTER issue of the socialist has featured the crisis in the health service under New Labour. Dozens of hospital trusts have declared cuts as a result of their "going over budget". Newly trained nurses fresh from college are being told there are no jobs for them, as the trusts declare redundancies, closures and cutbacks.
This has been going on for well over two years. It is a result of the government's policy of refusing to cover spending in the trusts in order to: "introduce fiscal discipline".
At the same time, the government continues to privatise more and more of the service, the latest being NHS Logistics.
Private capital is licking its collective lips at the thought of the huge profits to come, as they are allowed, indeed encouraged, by New Labour to cherry-pick the most profitable parts of the NHS.
One feature of NHS top management's strategy is the huge increase in management consultants they have brought in. Accountancy Age magazine boasts that the NHS now uses more consultants than the whole of manufacturing industry, an increase over last year of 26%.
Not since the poll tax days has there been such awareness amongst ordinary people that something is wrong and it should be stopped. The growing support for the TUC-organised lobby of parliament on 1 November is one indication of these developments.
The movement is not uniform yet. The more rural areas and smaller towns have been the first to move. Mass demonstrations, reminiscent of the early days of the anti-poll tax campaign, have been held. But now the bigger towns and cities are feeling the cold wind of market forces on their local health services.
Who will put themselves at the head of this movement? It has to be the trade unions, whose members not only work in the NHS but also depend on the existence of a NHS which is available "free at the point of use".
Unfortunately, the union leaders, like Dave Prentis of UNISON, seem to be the last to recognise this. Many fine speeches have been made about the crisis but what has been lacking up to now is a strategy to do something about it.
The only conclusion you can come to is that the union leaders are so tied into the Labour Party that they hope against hope Gordon Brown will change tack when he is the leader.
But the only thing that the government will listen to is action. That is why it is even more important that the initiative of a number of NHS campaigns to organise a feeder march from south London to the lobby of parliament on 1 November is supported by the unions and their NHS members.
A national day of action should be organised soon after the lobby to pull together the workers in the hospitals and the people in the communities. A day of action that included industrial action - with trade union-controlled emergency cover - for those services under direct threat of cuts would be a tremendous beacon to the whole of the working class. The unions could demonstrate that they are the real defenders of a publicly owned and publicly run NHS.
Just as important, the same union leaders have to break themselves away from the clapped-out idea that things can be changed through the Labour Party and the trade unions' link with it. The battle to save the NHS is a political struggle as well as an industrial one. That requires a new political voice for working people. In other words, a new trade union-based mass workers' party.
In The Socialist 5 October 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party campaigns