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25 October 2013
Waltham Forest Unison Health meeting: Bail out hospitals not bankers!
The fight is on to spread the campaign to save hospital services in East London across the whole of the Barts Trust.
Barts Health Trust has announced £77.5 million of cuts, including downbanding of many staff and downgrading of wards to reduce staffing ratios.
Following a sham consultation, announcements of job cuts and other attacks are expected imminently.
Whipps Cross Hospital workers, led by their union Waltham Forest Unison Health, have taken the lead with an initial public meeting of 100, a gate protest of 200, a demo of 6-700 and an indicative ballot in which 97% of Unison members voted to be balloted for strike action. Meetings have taken place all over the hospital.
Scandalously the London Unison region has blocked support for this campaign.
Their claimed reason is that the cuts and downbanding will happen all across Barts Health Trust - at Newham General, the London in Whitechapel and at Barts as well as Whipps Cross - and that the other two Unison branches in the Trust are not campaigning.
Any union leadership worth its salt, however, would send organisers into these two hospitals to help organise and drive for action across the Trust.
In reality the region is leaning on these two branches against Whipps Cross in order to force through acceptance of severe cuts. Otherwise why not merge the branches to aid an effective campaign?
Whipps branch secretary Len Hockey has contacted the other two branches, and many workers at the other hospitals have taken part in protests.
Activists are fighting for the right to debate the cuts and plan a campaign of action, including strike action.
At a second public meeting called by WF Health Unison branch on 23 October, the message was clear: we will pile the pressure on the region, including organising a lobby of the union HQ. We demand a ballot across the Trust!
This meeting heard inspiring examples of other campaigns, such as Lewisham, and especially from Adrian O'Malley, branch secretary of Mid-Yorkshire, where nine days of strike against downbanding have achieved success.
The meeting agreed that community campaigning is important, and this, in the view of the Socialist Party, should be led by the workers in the hospital themselves.
Ideas were suggested such as mass community leafleting, door to door work, and innovative protests such as at the offices of culprit private companies.
The meeting also discussed the wider picture of the historic dismantling and privatisation of the NHS taking place. Everyone agreed that a central demand is to cancel PFI - bail out hospitals, not bankers! One contributor said: "PFI is like going to Wonga for money to build a hospital!"
As one Socialist Party member, Mike, explained from the floor: "In the first years of the NHS there has never been a more economical way of delivering a health service devised anywhere in the world.
"All the changes since then have cost more with less outcomes. Their only rationale has been for profit.
"But we know what a private health service will mean. If you can't afford Waitrose, you have to go to Lidl".
The meeting discussed the need for the health unions to take national action, for a 24-hour general strike, and Chris Moore, speaking for Stroud Against the Cuts, called on health campaigners to stand election candidates against the cuts.
Waltham Forest Socialist Party members
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 25 October 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
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