Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Report on NHS Demonstration in London

Despite great weather, a very colourful and noisy demonstration and visible unity of purpose amongst health workers and supporters of the NHS on Saturday there will be justifiable anger today over a missed opportunity.

I went down on a local Unison organised coach after a difficult search for a ticket (involving being passed around various people and asked if I was a Unison member, and getting an almost astonished response when I said that I was in Unison, but not in Health branch, but still wanted to go on the demo). Remember, this was a demo that had been pushed for by trade unionists and health campaigners - like the largest national campaign KONP (Keep Our NHS Public) - for a long time, with Unison Health section eventually calling a demo having waited too long for the union's national officers, or NHS Together (Representing all the unions in the health sector) to act nationally. The date was changed, and then gradually the dead hand of Unison's Dave Prentis and his Brownite Labour Party loyalists became clearer and clearer. They were obviously not keen to rock the boat for the "new" administration at Westminster. The demonstration was to be a "Celebration" of the NHS and a "family day out", not a public show of the strength and unity of health workers and campaigners against cuts, budget restrictions, closures, PFI and privatisation. Local hospital demos around the country have mobilised thousands - the demo could have made the links between the anti-closure and anti-cuts and anti-privatisation campaigns explicit and mobilised for maximum unity. Instead we had Prentis with platitudes and Ken Livingstone (does he think he is Nelson Mandela?) doing the "statesman's address" by video to his humble subjects. Most of the demonstrators were from Unison - the publicity and mobilisation had obviously not even reached as far as many other trade unions in Health, let alone the broader trade union movement and the local health campaigns.

The demonstrators made the best of a bad job and there were some excellent brightly coloured banners, props and flags. The non-approved slogans "The NHS is Not For Sale" and "Keep Our NHS Public" were very popular and rivalled the official fluffy "I (heart symbol) NHS".

The watering down of the demo and effectively attempting to limit participation to mainly healthworkers ensured a low turnout. I would have guessed 10-20,000, but the BBC says 7,000.

The Green Party had mass produced a placard with "Keep Our NHS Public" on it that went down very well (some people trading in the less eye-catching SWP ones for them!) It was good to meet up with comrades from Green Left, Green Empowerment and Green Party Trade Union Group. It showed that with good organisation and a good leaflet (I overheard praise for the Green Party leaflet from various activists on the coach I was on) the Party can have an effect.

The IWW also had a contingent and were giving out their National Blood Service Campaign leaflets. There were a few Respect banners and the obligatory SWP placards, but in their current troubles the Respect/SWP contingent seemed very subdued. I have never been on a demo with so few Socialist Worker Sellers - there almost seemed to be more AWL people selling their "Solidarity" (The centre page pull-out on the Grundrisse is not exactly light reading, comrades - but top marks for referencing the latest Michael Moore film on the front page!)

The crucial task of building a national movement to defend the NHS that links service users and the broader community with the organised workers still remains. Prentis et al can utter platitudes about defending the public service ethos and opposing free market dogma, but unless workers can defend themselves and a nationally co-ordinated movement is built to apply real pressure on this issue, then the death by a thousand cuts and stealthy piecemeal privatisations will continue as the likes of the US health giants exposed by Moore in Sicko dig their claws deeper and deeper into our healthcare system.

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At 8:39 pm, Blogger Derek Wall said...

good report unfortunately had to maket the first Green Party Exec of the year, did bump into Dave Sharman of Greenwich Green Party at Charing Cross.

We obviously need to keep on keeping on with out union work, not a great fan of the AWL I do like the Grundrisse!

the following piece is a bit localist but fun!

'The Times of November 1857 contains an utterly delightful cry of outrage on the part of a West-Indian plantation owner. This advocate analyses with great moral indignation—as a plea for the re-introduction of Negro slavery—how the Quashees (the free blacks of Jamaica) content themselves with producing only what is strictly necessary for their own consumption, and, alongside this 'use value', regard loafing (indulgence and idleness) as the real luxury good; how they do not care a damn for the sugar and the fixed capital invested in the plantations, but rather observe the planters' impending bankruptcy with an ironic grin of malicious pleasure, and even exploit their acquired Christianity as an embellishment for this mood of malicious glee and indolence. [39] They have ceased to be slaves, but not in order to become wage labourers, but, instead, self-sustaining peasants working for their own consumption. As far as they are concerned, capital does not exist as capital'

At 10:07 pm, Blogger greenman said...

I have read the Pamphlet by Martin Thomas on the Grundrisse now, and it is actually very interesting and well worth a read -

At 6:36 pm, Anonymous Laura Smith said...

Dead hand of Dave Prentis - you must be joking. It was his personal intervention that secured the event in Central London & Trafalgar Square rather than a remote park in South London - get your facts write before resorting to personal attacks on one of the few union's and union leader's who want to mobilise rank and file members. This was the 5th UNISON national demonstration under Dave's leadership - for public services, on low pay [in Manchester & Newcastle], anti BNP [in Manchester] and Saturday's demo in defence of the NHS.

At 7:23 pm, Blogger greenman said...

You mean like "mobilising the rank and file members" in local government to NOT go on strike even though a majority voteed to? Or maybe "mobilising the members" to kow tow to Gordon Browns final emasculation of the Labour Party conference as he went along with this Autumn. Prentis, knows his membership is relatively more militant than the unions led by his even less appealing colleagues in the leadership of the other big Labour affiliated unions. So Prentis may be prepared to back tame "popular front" style demos on a range of issues, that does not mean he is a "rank and file" mobiliser or radical, it just means he is seeking to keep the soft left on side by throwing them some ineffectual crumbs. Keep chewing on the crumbs.....
Do you think 10,000 or so on a national demo is acceptable performance when we have just seen 15,000 on local hosital protests in the South East?

At 2:40 pm, Anonymous Laura Smith said...

Along with my UNISON ballot paper on the local government paper there was a letter from Dave Prentis making the case for industrial action in unequivocal terms so once again facts don't back up your personal attack. As the union was almost split down the middle in the ballot and the two other LG unions GMB & UNITE did not even run strike ballots, the mandate for strike action was self evidently insufficient.
On the Labour party conference reform it is clear that the 5 largest affiliated unions took a collective decision to concede the status quo and accept a review in 2009. As a non member of the union's labour link political fund I'm not sure what difference this makes to LP power structures - UNISON has defeated the Government repeatedly on pensions, PFI and health privatisation but the Labour front bench ignored the decions of conference - so the latest concession is unlikely to have any material effect on a flawed democracy.I'm interested to know whether your sectarian bile towards UNISON reflects the policy of the Green party. I hope not because on issues such as equality,the Green agenda, nuclear weapons and public services there is massive common ground between UNISON and your organisation. Your attacks on the union's leadership are not only wrong but counter productive in my view.

At 6:27 pm, Blogger greenman said...

"Sectarian bile towards Unison" ?? Get a grip! If you think my mild criticisms of Prentis are sectarian bile you can't have been around the left for long! I am hardly going to be sectarian against Unison seeing as I have been a Unison member since its' foundation and a NALGO member before that. I have been a Steward and workplace rep for the union. My attitude to Prentis is mild compared to some members I have come across!
As far as me representing the Green Party or Green Left - I represent no-one on this blog but myself. I simply find it difficult to like or sympathize with Prentis given my experience, as a Unison member, of his "leadership" - on a whole range of issues over the years.
As far as the ballot was concerned he was hardly going to accompany the ballot with a recommendation to vote NO was he? And waiting for the most right wing of the unions to start action before we do anything is a recipe for capitulation everywhere.
As far as Labour conference is concerned you acknowledge how pitiful was the labour-affiliated unions influence before the change (that was acquiesced to with little protest) - so does that mean that if people are ignored they should just agree to shut up and put up?
I notice you have not answered my key question and the reason for my, (and many other members of Unison, other unions and health campaigns) disappointment at the London demo - do you think that 7000 (as it says in the latest Unison mailing) is an acceptable turnout for a National demo on one of the major national issues of our day? 7000, when even local hospital campaigns have been mobilising 10,000+? If not, then who was chiefly responsible?
Prentis, in his latest mailing to members says he thinks the demo was "fantastic" - do you?
If the unions, and working people in this country are to go forward at all we must have free and open debate about why things are not going as well as we would like. Suggesting certain individuals should be exempt from criticism because they are "the best of a bad bunch" and accusing those who criticise them of "sectarian bile" is an attempt to restrict debate and silence criticism.


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