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Closing rally: How to defend the NHS
THE CLOSING rally on how to defend the NHS, not surprisingly, was packed. Dr Jackie Grunsell and Huddersfield Save Our NHS councillor gave a moving introduction, exposing how New Labour's policies on the NHS were designed to open it up further to the big business sharks. They just want the NHS as a brand name, so the private healthcare companies can pile up their profits more easily. (See also page 1)
But she also explained how Huddersfield Save Our NHS had tried to force the local council to hold a referendum on the proposed cuts in the local health services. When they refused, the campaign decided to stand in the local elections - and Jackie was elected with a massive 8,000 majority.
Policies that make sense to the government are being rejected as madness by working-class people.
Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist then developed that argument. He reminded everyone that the NHS used to be the envy of the world. But now that private profit is being given the upper hand, all we have to look forward to is cuts and closures.
But there is a fightback. Dave described some of the protest meetings and demonstrations which have been held in the West Midlands.
700 came to a meeting in Nuneaton. 35,000 people signed a petition and thousands joined demonstrations protesting against cuts in the Warwick and Rugby area. As a result the primary care trust backed off slightly - so protest can work.
But the new chief executive of the NHS has declared that he wants to cut 60 accident and emergency departments nationally and one-third of all maternity units.
"The Tories sold off big industries like gas, electric and transport to reward their big-business friends. But now New Labour is selling off public services to their friends", Dave explained.
But he also pointed out that the tops of the Labour movement are not up to speed on what is happening. He reminded everyone that at a rally at Socialism 2005, the idea of building a new workers' party was discussed. The Campaign for a New Workers' Party was subsequently launched because it is not enough just to expose what New Labour is doing. We need a new party to represent the interests of working-class people.
Dave explained there are already six pensioners in Coventry who want to stand in the local elections. But these challenges to New Labour need to be co-ordinated. The single issue campaigns need to broaden out into a wider political agenda - that's why we must build a new party.
Dave concluded by saying that we can achieve victories now but we must go further and campaign to change society.
Lois Austin, a member of the Socialist Party's executive committee, took us back to 1997 when New Labour was first elected - when workers breathed a sigh of relief to see the back of the Tories. But all we've seen since is cuts and privatisation.
Lois gave two examples - Birmingham Childrens' Hospital have turned away 159 referrals in nine months. And 70% of student physiotherapists can't get jobs in the NHS.
Lois explained how words like "reconfiguration", "reform", "choice", "modernisation" are bandied around to cover up the cuts. As George Orwell explained, they: "Fall upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details."
We have to expose what is really happening. The government only want us to have the public sector which the private sector can provide. But we must campaign for an NHS which is state-funded and planned at a local, regional and national level.
But the relationship of the big four trade unions with the Labour Party is a block on effective campaigning to defend the NHS. "We must now say to the union leaders - stop prevaricating, if you won't organise a demonstration in February, we will", Lois declared.
On 15 December a number of campaigns across the country, united in the People United Saving Hospitals (PUSH) campaign are organising a day of action. In January, Keep Our NHS Public is organising a week of action. All these events can help to build for a big, national demonstration in February.
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