The Socialist 8 March 2007 |
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3 March protests
First priority - a national demonstration
THE 3 March protests to save the NHS, involving thousands of people, show the anger over savage health cuts and the potential for a nationwide campaign of mass protests and industrial action.
Karen Jennings, UNISON's health spokesperson, tried to ensure that no national strategy to defend the NHS was advocated at the trade union-led NHS Together rally in Euston. She failed to mention the UNISON service group executive's decision to call a national demonstration in June or July. But a date for the national demo was what everyone wanted to hear!
In contrast, a resolution from the National Pensioners Convention, calling on "all those supporting this NHS Together day of action to unite in a national march in central London on a Saturday in June to mark the anniversary of the 1946 National Health Service Act with the aim: save our NHS" was agreed at protest rallies around the country.
If the union leaders don't call it, all those who want a demonstration must organise one. A national PUSH (People United Saving Hospitals) meeting on 31 March in Coventry will again discuss this.
If there is still no date for a national demonstration, and there is enough support from campaigners around the country, they will call a national demonstration in central London.
PUSH organisers hope other campaigns like Keep Our NHS Public will also take part in this meeting. It is vital that the PUSH meeting succeeds and truly represents those people fighting to defend the NHS. So, trade unionists and campaigners should get themselves delegated to go.
While the union leaders delay organising an effective national struggle, NHS services and staff are being cut and hospitals are closing. Let's seize the time and build a nationally coordinated struggle to turn back the tide of cuts and privatisation now, before it's too late.
Sheffield insists "Name the day"
THE WIND of change blew through Sheffield when 1,000 people took to the streets to defend the NHS. Nurses, doctors, care workers, mental health workers and families with children marched, shouting slogans, through the streets.
As a socialist I have been angry for years at the way governments run rough-shod over working people's needs and aspirations, putting the pursuit of profit before the social needs of communities.
But I was relieved to find that many other people were getting angry.
New Labour has been dismantling the NHS by stealth and selling it off - lining big business shareholders' pockets. Everyone has their anger threshold.
Health service union leaders had better start picking up on the changed mood rippling through their memberships.
At the rally, several trade union dignitaries including TUC chief Brendan Barber moaned that "the government isn't listening to us," and "we want to work in partnership with the government." They received only polite applause and their jokes fell flat.
But then Socialist Party member Dr. Jackie Grunsell, a councillor elected for Save Huddersfield NHS campaign, said: "What are we going to do about the NHS crisis?
"We need a national demonstration, name the day Brendan, and more than that we need industrial action!" She was cheered to the skies.
The Sheffield demo showed what is possible when the unions just lift their little finger.
We must force them to fight with both hands or replace them with leaders who will.
30 people attended the Socialist Party meeting after the demo including five union reps from Sheffield Children's Hospital and two victimised Unique care workers from Huddersfield.
500 march in Oxford
ABOUT 500 people joined a march and rally outside East Oxford Health Centre - built under a scheme similar to PFI - which will cost £1.8 million a year for thirty years and then become the property of the private sector.
Toby Harris, Oxford Socialist Party
None of the invited MPs turned up to speak, so workers from UNISON, Amicus and the RCN spoke, highlighting the local cuts and calling for health workers' unity to fight the government.
A PCS shop steward gave her support and appealed for solidarity across the public sector against attacks.
Physio students at Oxford-Brookes university told how many are unable to find jobs in the NHS after years of training.
Steve Bell, Socialist Party member and UNISON representative, spoke about the need for a political alternative. MPs and councillors have been elected on the basis of NHS campaigns and Steve urged people to consider this as a way to challenge the politicians destroying the NHS.
Manchester - build a mass movement
AT FIRST Amicus supported a national march on 3 March. Then the regional NHS Together said that only a regional event should happen, and that it should just be a press launch. Amicus Regional NHS Committee unanimously rejected this and went to the NHS Together meeting asking for a lively march in Manchester on 3 March.
The other unions over-ruled this, and Amicus was expected to abide by the decision. However, the Unison Community branch (recently on strike) said they were going ahead anyway, and Amicus NW NHS Committee and Manchester Trades Council supported them.
The turnout of 1,000 was a testament to NHS union reps' determination. It could have been much bigger if there had been all-out support from NHS Together.
It was still mainly a gathering of activists with the broad mass of members not present. When they are convinced that the unions are serious, the government could face an unstoppable force of a determined workforce and concerned public users.
Andy Ford, member Amicus NW Regional NHS Committee
Wiltshire - save our NHS
AROUND 150 people marched against health cuts in Chippenham, Wiltshire. The event got local TV, radio and press coverage. Roger Davey, UNISON steward and Socialist Party member organised the demonstration as part of the campaign to prevent three Wiltshire hospitals being closed, with more to follow if the government gets its way.
He told the post-march rally that if compulsory redundancies are threatened, the local Unison branch would ballot for strike action.
Phil Bishop from the PCS union called for a national demonstration of all public sector workers against job cuts and pay freezes. As with Roger's speech, this was greeted with cheers.
THE NHS rally in Woking attracted around 200 people. Speakers included an ex-ambulance worker who collected tens of thousands of signatures against cuts. The campaign group allowed no MPs on the platform despite repeated pressure from Humfrey Malins, Woking's Tory MP, who later complained to local papers that campaigners had snubbed him.
Nick Kirk South London
AROUND 400 people turned out for south London's demonstration. We aim to save the Maudsley hospital's emergency clinic and Felix Post Unit for the elderly. Both are national centres of excellence but the butchers in the government want these services to close.
The government say that the emergency clinic can be replaced by patients going to the neighbouring general hospital's A&E. But the specialist teams who work with those suffering from acute mental health problems at the Maudsley are best able to care for these service users. Trade union reps and local campaigners plan a programme of action to save these services.
BETWEEN 400 and 500 health workers were at the Birmingham rally, which covered both east and west midlands.
The speakers offered no lead to the campaign, even refusing to let a speaker from People United Saving Hospitals (PUSH) say a few words. Our call for a national demonstration backed by industrial action went down extremely well.
As the union leadership could not even organise a demo, around 50 health workers, joined by Socialist Party members, held an impromptu march around Birmingham.
Many workers are impatient with the health unions' passivity in the face of government policies. Only a strategy going beyond marches and speeches can defeat the cuts.
OVER 250 people demonstrated in Hackney against ward closures, bed losses and job cuts. More people joined the march as it went past Homerton Hospital. The closing rally outside the town hall was joined by 150 people marching from Tower Hamlets.
Throughout the demo, Kurdish and Turkish workers led chants of "hands off the NHS, the NHS is ours".
One of them was handing out Socialist Party leaflets.