Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/469/1946
Union action can defend the NHS
THE GOVERNMENT'S plans for the NHS (see front page) are a declaration of war on health service workers and surely need a militant response from the health trade union leaders.
A national demonstration to defend the health service is urgently needed. It is the logical next step in a campaign where over 100,000 people have taken part in protests in towns and cities around the country. The People United Saving Hospitals (PUSH) campaign is already building for a national demonstration on 3 March in London.
Unfortunately, instead of a 'call to arms', through plans for industrial action to defend jobs and working conditions, and plans for a long awaited national demonstration to defend the NHS, the TUC Together campaign has only called for regional days of action on 3 March and has not backed a national demonstration on that day as activists and campaigners had hoped.
The socialist believes that we still have to campaign for a national demonstration and force the trade union leaders to act in the interests of our NHS. There should be an urgent campaign of resolutions to trade union regional and executive committees to put pressure on them to mobilise for a demonstration in London on 3 March. The future of our NHS depends on it.
Turn back the tide
The trade unions are potentially a powerful enough force in society to turn back the tide on privatisation and cuts. We must campaign in our unions to unleash this power in the direction of united mass national action.
The stance of the leaders of the biggest health unions and the TUC is a deliberate attempt to head off support for a national demonstration and a grassroots mass protest movement in defence of the health service. They are petrified of upsetting their relationship with New Labour in the run-up to the May local elections and then the next general election with Gordon Brown installed as Labour's leader. The largest single factor holding back struggles to defend the NHS and the rest of the public sector is the link the biggest unions have to New Labour.
There is no doubt that the PUSH meeting on 2 December where around 20 campaigns met and agreed to call a national demonstration on 3 March, with the support of Keep our NHS Public representatives present, sent shivers through Congress House (the TUC headquarters). It forced TUC health leaders to act and try to take control of the movement to stop effective national campaigning developing from the ground up.
Many regions have had local demonstrations already, in some cases there have been two or three local or regional demonstrations. The movement has reached a level now where the crucial next step is to unite all the campaigns and fighting trade union branches in a national demonstration on the streets of central London with the aim of taking the message to Westminster. A national demonstration, given the mood of anger which exists, if built for by the unions and health campaigns, could bring tens of thousands onto the streets.
The question is, what do all those who wanted a national demonstration on 3 March do now? Do we try to demobilise all those campaigns around the country that were building for a demonstration in London and tell them not to come? Or do we continue to campaign for a national demonstration on that day.
Some on the left have already argued that we cannot go against the union leaders; that we have to do the best we can with what they are prepared to do, and therefore we should support and build regional demonstrations. One problem with this is that if the action of the health union leaders so far is anything to go by, many regional trade union officials will not even organise a regional demonstration, which means nothing will happen in those areas on 3 March.
Where union officials do organise something there may well be deliberate attempts to keep the action small and ineffectual. In the build-up to the trade union lobby of parliament on 1 November last year, health trade union branches were told not to bring large numbers of people and local campaigns were told not to come. Incredible though this sounds, it is true!
The Keep our NHS Public conference on 20 January should discuss building for a national demonstration on 3 March and request that the unions organise and build for it too. Regions near London are planning to join a London demonstration in any case and many trade union branches and activists further afield have already planned to come to London on 3 March and feel frustrated and let down by the TUC decision not to call a national demonstration.
The South East Region TUC has booked Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park for 3 March; this means they anticipate big numbers of people. It is not too late to reverse the national TUC decision, we must campaign to get many thousands marching in London on that day and for the unions to back and organise it.
In The Socialist 11 January 2007:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Violence against women
Socialist Party review
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news