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From The Socialist newspaper, 18 January 2007

Save our NHS

Keep up the pressure for 3 March demo

HEALTH CAMPAIGNERS are angry that union leaders have not called a long-awaited national demonstration to defend the NHS for 3 March. Instead, the TUC-led NHS Together campaign is only calling regional protests on that day.

Lois Austin

A national demonstration would give a unified, national focus to local campaigns and health trade union branches fending off cuts, closures and job losses.

So far very few regional protests are being organised and health union activists are worried that, if the focus of a national demonstration is dropped, will anything will be organised to replace it? If it's left to the leaders, very little action will be organised on 3 March in the regions.

Campaigners in People United to Save Hospitals (PUSH), in Keep our NHS Public (KONP) and in some UNISON health branches, say the pressure for 3 March national demo has not finished yet. Protest letters and resolutions are needed to health union leaders demanding a national demonstration. Campaigns should still plan to come to London on that day, particularly if nothing is organised in their area.

The London NHS Together campaign is meeting on 24 January to plan its 3 March event. London KONP will lobby this meeting to make sure they organise a march and rally in central London. Campaigners want to ensure that union leaders build a campaign mobilising the largest possible numbers.

London KONP also agreed to push the unions in London to invite all those health campaigns around the country who plan to come to London, to join us on the march.

At the 20 January KONP conference in London, delegates should also discuss the possibility of KONP calling a national demonstration over the next few months, given the health union leaders' unwillingness to call one.

Activists cannot just accept the union leaders saying that no real struggle is possible to defend the NHS. The leaders of Britain's biggest unions are tied so closely to New Labour that they won't organise a serious struggle to jeopardise this relationship.

Potentially, the unions are the most powerful force for turning back government policy. Pushing the union leaders to act in our interests is crucial. Fighting locally, linking community campaigns with struggles in NHS workplaces will also develop health workers' confidence to take industrial action to defend their jobs, conditions and oppose privatisation.

But we must also be prepared to organise unofficial protests and demonstrations when the union leaders don't. The march to the TUC lobby on 1 November put pressure on the health union leaders. It brought campaigners together from around the country and set the tone for national demos on the NHS.

Let's not give up yet on a national demo in London on 3 March. We must fight for national action and a campaign to stop the privatisation juggernaut steaming through the health service.

NHS campaigns like PUSH are coming to London on 3 March. All campaigners should be telling the unions they intend to march and want their support.

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In The Socialist 18 January 2007:

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Keep up the pressure for 3 March demo

Socialist Students

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War and terrorism

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Blair's vision: 'wars without end'

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