The Socialist 1 November 2007 |
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NHS campaigning - national strategy needed
There have been protests all over the country to defend the NHS. The latest, in Haywards Heath and Chichester, were both over 10,000 strong. This shows the anger which is there nationwide against cuts, closures and privatisation.
The department of health's 'commissioning of services' proposals, where 14 companies are being given the job of running NHS services for Primary Care Trusts, strikes urgency into the debate on how to take forward the struggle against NHS privatisation.
Some of these companies are implicated in serious corrupt practices in the US. They spend a lot of resources on finding ways of refusing insurance payouts for US citizens on Medicare and others, depriving thousands of people of life-saving health care treatment.
One of the British based companies to be used in commissioning services for the NHS is BUPA, recently taken over by a private equity firm. This is more than worrying considering the record of private equity firms already running public services that cut and run when it suits.
So when politicians of all the three main political parties say 'it doesn't matter who provides the care, just so long as we get it'; well sorry, it does matter.
Privatising the NHS means we are all at the mercy of profit and loss balance sheets and we no longer own parts of the health infrastructure paid for by public money, these big companies do.
Given all of this, how do we take forward the national campaign to defend our NHS? Disgracefully, trade unionists and campaigners have had to wait two years for the health trade union leaders to call a national demonstration. The leaderships of the biggest trade unions are too close to New Labour to risk upsetting them by opening the floodgates to a mass campaign.
The high point of the protest movement so far to save the NHS was last autumn. If the trade union leaders had lifted their little finger and called a national demonstration at that time, hundreds of thousands would have marched through central London.
Despite pressure from their members they didn't do this or run any other type of effective campaign. They have left the door wide open for Tory, Liberal and New Labour MPs to parade themselves as leaders of campaigns all over the country.
But it is still not too late for all of us at the grassroots to link together in a national campaign with a clear strategy on the way forward. The revolt in support of the NHS has been likened to the early stages of the anti-poll tax movement.
What ensured victory of the anti-poll tax campaign was united local and national action with a clear focus and strategy to take the campaign forward at each stage. We desperately need a campaign like this now if we are to save the NHS.
There are obvious differences with the poll tax campaign. Many NHS workers are organised in trade unions in their workplaces. They have potential muscle if they take industrial action, including strike action, like the Australian nurses who are currently on strike or health workers here who have taken strike action in recent months and won some of their demands at Whipps Cross Hospital and in Manchester mental health.
This is urgent and serious. The slogans of the union tops for the 3 November demonstration are: 'We love the NHS' and 'Let's celebrate the NHS'. Well we do love the idea of an NHS that is publicly owned, meeting people's needs and free at the point of use, but that is not what we will have if a mass campaign of industrial action married to action in the communities on a local and national basis is not organised now.
All of us campaigning to save the NHS have been doing our best to pressurise the trade union leaders into organising a national campaign and we should continue to do this; we mustn't let them off the hook. We need to know now, from the leaders of Unison and the other health unions, what their plans are to take things forward after the 3 November demonstration.
But we can't just sit back and wait for the trade union leaders to run an effective campaign capable of turning back the tide of privatisation. And we can't just keep telling those organising at a local level to carry on with no national focus, as some NHS campaigners have suggested. We must attempt, as best we can, to step up the campaigning ourselves.
Keep our NHS Public (KONP), the largest of the NHS campaigns, could play the lead role in bringing together those from People United Saving Hospitals (PUSH), other NHS campaigns and trade union branches into local and national meetings where a strategy is thrashed out. The 3 November demonstration must be a springboard for such a campaign.