Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/981/26833
NHS - build the fightback
Trade unions and Corbyn's Labour must throw their weight into building a mass movement
We must make 3 February a turning point. Tens of thousands in London and dozens or hundreds on each of more than 50 other events around the country boldly protested in defence of our NHS.
They called for "more staff, more beds and more funds" to deal with the horrific crisis. It's highlighted this winter by queues to get into hospitals, and reports of deaths caused by understaffing and lack of space and resources. This emergency needs emergency action - these emergency protests were a good start.
The streets of central London were packed with marchers of all ages, from all over the country, many attending their first demonstration. There was an enthusiasm about being able to collectively show the frustration that has been bubbling up for many over the last few months.
Marchers expressed huge solidarity with the health workers struggling to cope with this crisis on the front line. Speakers from the trade unions that represent such workers - Unison, the Royal College of Nurses and Unite - gave sometimes rousing speeches reflecting the anger on the demonstration.
They recounted the devastation caused by this crisis, and asserted the general idea that it's possible to fight for better. But there was a lack of clear strategy and commitment to action.
Only Jacqui Berry, an intensive care nurse and Socialist Party member, spoke clearly about what can be done immediately - and the vital role of health workers and their trade unions in the fight to defend the NHS.
Jacqui said: "In a few months' time when NHS workers are served up another insulting pay offer, we will have no choice but to reject it. And we will need to say to our trade union leaders that they will need to prepare and organise and build coordinated industrial action across the NHS.
"And after eight long years of pay restraint, I don't think that this weak minority government will be able to withstand the pressure of picket lines made up of nurses and porters and cleaners with the public behind them."
With the Capita crisis following hot on the heels of the Carillion collapse, there were correctly many references to the rip-off of privatisation.
Labour's shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth was loudly cheered when he said: "Let me tell you the next Labour government - no more PFI hospitals, no more Carillion outsourcing leaving hospitals unclean affecting patient health and safety.
"And we're putting Virgin Care and organisations like that on notice today - no more privatisation, privatisation comes to an end with a Labour government."
He also repeated Labour's manifesto pledges that a Labour government would scrap the pay cap and bring back the training bursary.
Every reference to Jeremy Corbyn got a similarly enthusiastic response, showing the mass support that can be won by Labour on a bold anti-austerity programme.
But the tone of some speakers leaned too much towards "wait for a Labour government". That could be as far away as 2022 - too long to wait for patients and staff. We need action now.
While many unions, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and individuals in the leadership of Labour backed the protests, more could have been done by these mass organisations to mobilise their members and use their resources to publicise the events.
If the full power of all workers' organisations was thrown into this movement, we could see millions on the streets - backing up and giving confidence to a programme of industrial action by health workers.
The protests on 3 February showed the potential. To build on this, the Socialist Party calls for:
Build the movement
- An urgent meeting of the TUC, trade unions and Labour Party to set a date for a next national Saturday demonstration bringing together the issues of the NHS crisis, austerity and pay - bring forward the march planned for 12 May
- Coordinate strike ballots and action over pay across different unions
- Get the Tories out! For a programme of mass action to force a general election
- Kick out the Blairites!
- For Corbyn and his supporters to fight for democratisation of the Labour Party to get rid of pro-privatisation, pro-austerity politicians
Save the health service
- Scrap PFI, 'accountable care organisations' and all privatisation schemes, with compensation only on the basis of proven need
- No cuts, closures or job losses in the NHS. Decent pay for all staff.
- No attacks on NHS pensions or working conditions
- Reverse council cuts to social care to relieve the beds crisis
- Nationalise the profiteering drugs companies
- For a comprehensive, high-quality NHS, under democratic control, with care free at the point of use
Jacqui Berry's full speech
I am a nurse. And if you were hoping for stories about what it's like working on the frontline, I'm sorry I can't tell you. I can't tell you because they're not my stories to tell and I can't tell you because there are just far too many stories to tell. But we know that patients are dying on corridors, in trollies. We know that our doctors, our nurses, our midwives, our physios, are working in a system that has set us up to fail.
The crisis in the NHS is the new normal, and it's a crisis that is politically manufactured. Over the last six years we've lost 15,000 beds. While claiming that there's no 'magic money tree,' successive governments have thrown billions and billions at the likes of G4S, at the likes of Carillion, at the likes of Virgin Care - who do nothing more than act as a middle man to transfer funds away from our patients, away from the public, and into the pockets of already-very-rich people, private shareholders.
And all the while we are 100,000 members of staff short in the NHS. After eight years of pay cuts to the value of 14%, it is no surprise that many of us have voted with our feet. Today we have marched more staff, more beds and more funds - these aren't pie in the sky demands, these are the immediate things that we need in order to keep our service functioning and keep our patients safe.
But I don't think these things are compatible with the Tory government. There's no easy way to say this but if we want an NHS, we have to bring them down. So in a few months' time when NHS workers are served up another insulting pay offer, we will have no choice but to reject it.
And we will need to say to our trade union leaders that they will need to prepare and organise and build coordinated industrial action across the NHS. And after eight long years of pay restraint, I don't think that this weak minority government will be able to withstand the pressure of picket lines made up of nurses and porters and cleaners with the public behind them.
We will bring down this government. And we will replace them with a government that we demand ends cuts, reverses the scourge of privatisation, pays NHS staff what we are owed and builds a fully funded publicly owned and provided national health and social care service.
Today we have marched together, tomorrow we will probably have to strike together. This government is at war with public services - go home go back to your communities, your workplaces, your trade union branches and prepare for battle.
- Watch the speech here.
In The Socialist 7 February 2018:
Save our NHS
What we think
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns