Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Monday, March 05, 2007

NHS Day of Action and Beyond...

The NHS Together Day of Action went ahead on Saturday with events around Britain in defence of free, public, properly funded and properly staffed healthcare. I have blogged various times in the run up to the event about the initial inadequacy of the union hierarchies' response that may have been affected by their labourism in the run up to the important May elections in England, Wales and Scotland. I have also noted how things started to improve once local campaigners got involved.

I went along to the rally in Birmingham that was addressed by Unison leader Dave Prentis. Prentis made the required noises about the government approach being wrong, though the underlying critique is not of the whole new labour strategy and understanding of the power base of the neo-liberal ethos, but a naive, possibly 'Brownite' belief that a change of leader will return the safe beer-and-sandwiches social democracy that Prentis would be happy with.

Rallies took place around the country, with varying degrees of effectiveness. The Birmingham static rally in Victoria Square ensured that the vast majority of busy Birmingham was untoubled by any reminders of opposition to the neo-liberal dismantling of public health care in the UK. The marches in Sheffield and Preston were reportedly more lively - more pictures of the Sheffield march here courtesy of Indymedia. Unison released the following press release.

The demand for a national demonstration in the summer as a focus is worthwhile as although it comes from the usual suspects on the left who want to "pressure the union leaderships" (in time honoured, largely futile fashion) it is also backed by the large numbers of independent campaigners around hospital cuts and closures who see the need to unite their struggles and build a visible and powerful alliance. The group PUSH (People United Saving Hospitals) leafletted the Birmingham rally to this effect and there is also pressure within the broad based KONP (Keep Our NHS Public) for the kind of national focus that is needed alongside local mobilisations. The call for a national demonstration now has the support of the Unison Health Service Group Executive as reported here on Labournet.

There were people from various Midlands Hospital campaigns at the Birmingham rally along with RCN, Unison and AMICUS contingents. The Socialist Party, SWP, Socialist Resistance, Respect, Campaign Against Euro Federalism and CPGBML all set up stalls, as did the marvellous Birmingham Food Not Bombs people. I was pleased to meet up with some Midlands IWW members ('Wobblies') who had a humourous home made banner. ("I needed a new hip and all I got was this lousy nuclear submarine!") Some pictures on Birmingham Indymedia here.

Had a chat with Coventry Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist - who was an MP expelled from the Labour Party in the 'Militant' purges - and got his view on the McDonnell-Meacher-Simpson situation in his former party.

So, the Birmingham mobilisation was worth attending, if only to meet and talk with people from various currents of left opinion. The way ahead for the campaign around the Health Service must be to act together on a more national basis and build the links between workers, campaigners and communities that are necessary for a united movement. With a national movement for free public health care established we can go from a defensive posture to putting forward ideas about the kind of health care we would like to see. The issue is crucially one about democracy and democratic control and this obviously goes beyond just the health service to all other areas of public life and the economy. As such the battle over health care is one that can bring to a large number of people much more general questions of power and control, with the potential for mass radicalisation.

At the moment it looks as though the health revolt will be one of the key factors over the next year or so (along with the war issue, climate change/nuclear power and Trident replacement)that will shape the form of resistance to the neo-liberal agenda in the UK.

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