Tag Archives: Peoples Assembly

Anger over NHS crisis provokes yet another mass demonstration

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The national NHS demonstration that took place over the last few days was a collective scream at the Government not to tamper any further with the UK healthcare system. This winter has seen the worst crisis in living memory stretch NHS resources to the absolute limit; NHS Trusts nationwide have been absolutely clear that although there is always a peak of admissions in winter months, years of lack of funding and chronic resource issues have combined to create the perfect storm of a full-blown NHS crisis. While the Government (as previous Conservative Governments did before it) like to paint the NHS as a black hole which will swallow up endless amounts of taxpayers money – the fact remains that the bleeding of NHS finances to the private sector, and the burden of PFI contracts established under previous Governments, have all put the punitive approach of the Tory administration into very sharp relief. Let’s be clear – the Tories want increasing private involvement in the NHS, while a huge majority of the UK population (whether they be Leavers or Remainers) want not only privatisation to stop, but for it to be significantly reversed.

People instinctively know that privatisation of healthcare is a bad idea – they only have to look at the system across the Atlantic and compare it to European healthcare systems to draw a very stark comparison. European voters generally want little to do with a significant profit motive in healthcare (what they get, however, is debatable) and, more importantly, they want their healthcare systems to care for everybody – not just a moneyed few. And contrary to the Government’s propaganda – in terms of value for money, the NHS is extremely efficient. But in terms of funding, it is well down the European league in terms of amounts spent per capita on health and on social care.

And let us not forget that the crisis in social care is as big as it is in the NHS, and stems mainly from the same forces at play – private healthcare companies and corporations bleeding money from the system – and the taxpayer. As with the NHS, the Government wants more private money introduced into the social care system – companies which certainly do not benefit patients – often charging exorbitant amounts for “care” while delivering a deplorable service – but they do benefit the profit margins of a large number of private providers; who while hurt over the collapse of TTIP, are no doubt salivating over the kind of trade deal the Tory Government may potentially make with Trump’s US administration. US healthcare giants have not taken their eye off the prize of the UK’s still largely state-provided NHS – and will lobby for a deal that will give them maximum access to UK patients on a private basis.

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It’s been going on a while – there have been many NHS demonstrations over the years. This picture was taken around 2005.

Trades unions have been warning for many years about the slow privatisation of the NHS and innumerable demonstrations have been held to try to stave off the surreptitious takeover of Britain’s last great symbol of socialism and cooperative endeavour. However, the fact remains that neither healthcare nor social care are safe in the hands of the Tories. The Labour Party, meanwhile, shackled by its not-so-distant past of supporting private initiatives such as PFI in health, must now be absolutely clear that it has moved to a position of absolute commitment to a publicly-funded and distributed NHS – free of the grasping hands of the private providers. Whatever trade unionists and socialists say about Brexit – it is an opportunity – either for a future Labour Government to ensure private involvement in the NHS is once-and-for-all brought to an end, thereby releasing much-needed funds that could be used exactly where they are needed. Or, it is an opportunity for a Tory Government – through a lucrative trade deal with America that includes healthcare, to allow US health corporations to strip what is left of a state-run service, like vultures picking over a wounded animal. Only the determination of NHS campaigners will ensure the first scenario is the one that wins out – and Aneurin Bevan’s famous comment one that can be translated to reality. The recent demonstration proved that there are still enough of those “folks” to demand that their health future – and the health future of their children, is untouched by the dirty hand of profit. The Tories are on the back-foot over the NHS – now is the time to seize the initiative and demand that their “reforms” are either halted or reversed; the country simply cannot afford another winter health crisis before creeping privatisation is revealed to be a cruel and bare-faced political lie based merely on no more than profit – the greatest political lie of the last 40 years.

Students give solid support to education strikes

studentprotest1On December 3rd, unions at universities across the country held a second day of strike action in a dispute over pay which has seen staff take an effective pay cut of 15% over the last 5 years. While vice chancellors and university management bleat about the need for British universities to “compete in a global market” – proof indeed that higher education is now just a conveyor belt for the corporate world rather than a place of academic learning – pickets took to university entrances to get their message across – not just to the public, but to the students whose education, say the vice chancellors, they are “disrupting”.

The relationship between students and trade unions has always been somewhat problematic. To die-hard industrial unionists, university students have too often been likened to the chattering liberal classes; exceedingly eloquent on the Marxist theory of profit and the minutiae of Sixties feminism, but not much use on the pitched battles with the police on the picket lines of history. To students, unions have often been seen as dinosaurs of a bygone age – out of date, out of touch, and riddled with the macho chauvinistic attitudes of old working class industrialism.

Both characterisations are demonstrably wrong. Firstly, students today are anything but “middle class” (though with tuition fees now biting hard, that may well shift within a matter of years – much to the delight of the Tory social engineers). Many students have joined the hordes of agency workers on zero-hour contracts and received a decidedly bitter taste of what it is like to suffer under the worst labour laws in Western Europe. Unions, on the other hand – far from being macho industrialists in an age in which there is no heavy industry left – have become inclusive and modernised – and are still the only organisations able to halt or at least destabilise the policies of an unpopular Government which has no real mandate to carry them out.

As a result, something of a welcome convergence is happening. Many trade unionists felt somewhat shamed by the valiant student protests in 2010, which saw youngsters engage in the sort of pitched-battle protests which the unions themselves historically always led. A wave of strikes and a rise in union membership since the economic collapse has shown that the unions are, albeit slowly, on the rise and finally on the offensive. Equally significantly, the presence of students on picket lines – not to mention their considerable presence on TUC demonstrations in London, and more recently at the Tory conference in Manchester – has shown that finally, students and unions are very much fighting side by side, and for shared and common objectives.

At York University, pickets were joined by the large Socialist Students society and other supporters; while at York Higher Education College, students joined a solidarity march from the college to St Helens’ Square, waving union placards and chanting workers’ slogans all the way. Jake Wood, spokesman for York College Socialists, said “We feel it’s vital to come out and support our teachers’ strike. This pay cut is just one of many cuts to education which, in turn, cuts our opportunities for a better future.” Kierran Horsfield, another student of the college, said that the treatment of students a few years ago had “radicalised even school students to the realities of what is happening.” It seems that university students are not the only ones refusing to swallow the “divide and rule” tactic of vice chancellors to drive a wedge between workers and students by claiming strikers “disrupt their education”, but even school students are not fooled by such empty rhetoric either.

So how can student groups and unions take this tentative relationship forward? Firstly, the scandalous treatment of students in occupation at the hands of the Metropolitan Police has given them a taste of what trade unionists suffered for years in the ’70s and ’80s – and the unions should both support those excluded students, and be vehement in their condemnation of police tactics that are now routinely meted out to young people at the slightest whim of the authorities. The emergence of a Police State is something of which today’s students are very keenly aware – after all, who can forget the student protestors of 2010 protecting themselves from police batons with 6 foot high copies of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”? That irony was most certainly not lost on the literate.

Secondly, through initiatives such as Unite’s community membership scheme, students should be encouraged to join us and participate in the general workers struggle, because as many of them are already aware, this is their struggle just as much as it is ours. The establishment have always relied on playing off students and workers against each other, but as recent events show, that futile propaganda is now falling on deaf ears. An alliance of students and unions – the two most radical elements of society – would strike fear into the heart of the establishment. For that reason alone, we must work hard at establishing a close relationship, and if that can be achieved and sustained, no amount of propaganda – whether it is from vice chancellors who ought to know better, the Government  or their lackeys in the media, will succeed in undermining a unified force that is determined to fight the lie of austerity, and to expose it for the corporate robbery that it actually is.