On a hot Friday evening, when most people would like to be outside enjoying the sunshine or having a pint, 200 people packed into Chorley town hall on 12 July in support of the Trades Union Council’s campaign to defend the local hospital.
This was a spectacular turnout for this Lancashire town and probably the biggest public meeting here since the 1984-5 miners’ strike.
The NHS foundation trust for the hospital has brought in ‘external advisors’ – consultants to you and me – in response to the new service commissioning system imposed by the Con-Dem government.
They will consider the possibility of ‘reconfiguration’ of local hospital provision – also known as cuts! But the Chorley community has an impressive history of fighting to defend its hospital, with a 10,000-strong local demonstration in 1977 that spearheaded a successful campaign at the time.
People here haven’t ever forgotten that, and support this time round looks as if it will be just as strong.
Trades council secretary, Steve Turner, opened the meeting, followed by Unite national officer, Rachel Maskell, and Chorley’s Labour MP, Lindsay Hoyle.
Our Labour MP argued strongly in defence of the hospital but only as a local issue, not linking it to the wider attack on the NHS. “We don’t want to get into political arguments (tonight)”, he said, clearly not wanting to have to defend Labour’s dreadful position of supporting public sector cuts and proclaiming them as a virtue, to pacify big business.
However, contributions from an NHS Unite rep and from the floor emphasised the importance of a militant trade union campaign to defend the hospital as part of the wider campaign to defend the NHS and linked to the political issues.
These views were enthusiastically received by the meeting, whilst nobody attempted to defend the Labour Party, even though the leader of the council’s Labour group also spoke from the floor.
Undoubtedly, there will also be much more to come here in the trades council’s campaign to defend the local hospital and the NHS!
It is also clear that Chorley is yet another town where there is an obvious political vacuum on the left that cries out for election candidates that oppose all cuts – like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition – and linked to all those unions that are fully committed to fighting austerity.