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Workers unite to defend the NHS
Steve Bell, Buckinghamshire Unison (personal capacity)
NHS workers in England will once again be striking for four hours on Monday 24 November from 7am. This time the action has been stepped up as more health unions - eleven in total - will be taking part in the coordinated action over pay.
Unions estimate NHS workers' real pay has fallen by over 12% in the last four years. But this strike, although formally over a government imposed pay rise of just 1%, is also in opposition to reorganisations, underfunding, staff shortages, privatisation and cuts. The crisis at Colchester hospital is the latest to be in the news as a result of these 'reforms'.
Three years ago I confronted Prime Minister David Cameron in Aylesbury. He confidently told me that the health service budget was not being cut and there would be no NHS cuts in Buckinghamshire.
Since then we have seen wards close, staffing below safe levels, and bed shortages. Staff have seen pay reduced through cuts in local allowances or 'downbandings', plus increases in pension payments and car parking charges.
Health economists predict a funding gap of up to £30 billion by 2020. NHS employers envisage a £7 billion gap in funding to meet the needs of the ageing community. More and more hospital trusts are declaring financial difficulties.
All the capitalist political parties claim they will spend 'more on the NHS', but all agree with making 'efficiency savings'.
In Buckinghamshire NHS we have heard it all before. We have been fighting cuts, privatisation and marketisation not only under this government but also the last Labour government.
Health workers recognise that coordinated action by health unions makes us stronger. But we also need a renewal of coordinated action across the whole public sector. This could start with health workers coming out at the same time as firefighters.
To go alongside the strike action we also need to call a national demonstration in defence of the NHS in the new year, before the general election. We also need a new workers' party that defends the NHS, one that calls for:
- Cancelling Private Finance Initiative (PFI) debt. Return the money to local health services and staff pay, rather than generate massive profits for multinationals
- Stopping privatisation and marketisation of the NHS. End private companies profiting from ill health. End expensive tendering for services every three years
- Nationalising big pharma and returning the profits to the NHS
The finance is there to fund the health service. What we need is a political party that represents not only the staff but also those using the services. One that is not in the pockets of big business.
That is why I, and many of my union branch members, back the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (www.tusc.org.uk).