Last Saturday, NHS workers and activists from healthcare campaigns such as Keep Our NHS Public organised local demonstrations all over the country to demand safety, pay justice, and an end to privatisation.
Celebrating its 73rd birthday today, the NHS has never been so vulnerable.
Years of cuts and austerity have decimated services. Thousands of nurses and other staff – overworked and underpaid – have left the profession due to exhaustion.
And having been on the brink at the height of the pandemic, Britain’s public healthcare system now faces the twin difficulties of a potential new wave, with cases of the Delta variant rising exponentially, alongside an existing patient backlog of over five million.
To top this all off, the new Tory health secretary, Sajid Javid, is a renowned free-marketeer. An acceleration of the creeping privatisation inside the NHS is therefore on the cards, no matter what the government decides to do regarding the recently proposed Health and Care Bill, which is due to be brought to Parliament tomorrow.
The new Health and Care Bill is is due to come to parliament tomorrow.— We Own It (@We_OwnIt) July 5, 2021
This Bill is a Corporate Takeover Bill that will allow private companies to sit on boards that decide where NHS money is spent.
It's a tug of war between people and the profiteers. We have to stop it! pic.twitter.com/VQZ23lijoL
Workers and activists on Saturday’s demo made their demands loud and clear. In particular, blocs of nurses called for a proper pay rise, with slogans such as “Boris Johnson, hear us shout; pay us properly, or get out”.
Scandalously, despite their heroic efforts throughout the pandemic, the Tory government has only offered nurses an insulting 1% pay rise – a real-terms wage cut, given inflation; and far below the unions’ demand for a 15% increase.
Unfortunately, the attendance at many of the demonstrations across the country was relatively small. No doubt concerns over rising COVID case numbers were a contributing factor towards this.
But the much greater problem is the lack of mobilisation from the leaders of the labour movement. Despite representing the largest number of NHS workers, for example, Unison placards and banners were notable by their absence.
This demonstrates the importance of the fight to transform Britain’s biggest trade union – a fight that has only just begun, with the recent victory for the left in the Unison NEC elections.
Similarly, whilst left-wing MPs such as John McDonnell spoke at the demo rally in London, the right-wing Labour Party leadership has made few noises in support of the NHS and its workers.
On the question of pay, for example, Starmer has been virtually silent, refusing to back the call for a 15% pay rise.
The fight to save our NHS is therefore a fight for militant leadership; a fight to change the labour movement from top to bottom. Only with bold socialist policies can we reverse the damage that the Tories and the profiteers have caused.
London – UCH
Over 100 activists attended the Camden NHS demo on Saturday. Marching from UCH hospital in Euston to Parliament Square, protestors shouted slogans like “Boris Johnson, hear us shout! Pay us properly, or get out!”, and “What do we want? Pay rise! How do we get it? Strike!”
There was an angry, anti-Tory mood amongst the NHS workers present. These workers have been used and abused by the Johnson government throughout the pandemic – and have been ‘thanked’ with a 1% pay rise.
NHS staff have described this as an insult: a real-terms cut. On the demo, healthcare workers adopted the slogan “1% won’t pay the rent”.
At Parliament Square, NHS workers gave moving speeches about their experiences during the pandemic. These workers stated that they were prepared to strike for the 15% pay rise they deserve.
Many speakers spoke about cuts and privatisation, given the recent take over of London GPs by American private healthcare giant, Centene.
Addressing the crowd, Labour MP John McDonnell said: “I will support you in Parliament – but we both know this battle will be won in the streets.”
Socialist Appeal activists fully support industrial action to secure the pay rise that NHS staff deserve.
To save our NHS, we call for the NHS to be brought completely under public ownership. We should expropriate parasitic corporations like Centene, in order to fully fund the NHS.
Nurses, doctors, cleaners and other NHS staff: these are the heroes whose efforts got us through the worst stages of the pandemic. They are the ones who should plan and run the NHS, rather than leave it in the hands of the capitalists and the Tories.
A socially-distanced crowd of a few dozen people gathered at Chapelfield garden in Norwich. Demonstrators stood around the small stage where people delivered speeches on the dire situation facing the NHS as a result of successive Tory governments.
Those in attendance expressed their anger, and committed to fighting against this profit-driven crisis. Alongside activists from Socialist Appeal stood members of Unite, Extinction Rebellion, and others.
One of the speakers recalled a story about a woman who had died on the motorway on the way to hospital, after waiting for hours for an ambulance. This graphically highlights the tragic cost that the working class continually pays for the crisis of capitalism.
The audience may not have equaled that seen at other recent demonstrations, such as those in support of Palestine, or at Kill the Bill protests. But hearing the passionate speeches from NHS workers, it was evident that these brave workers will not lie down and allow the destruction of our healthcare system in the hands of the Tories.
The message from this rally was loud and clear. NHS workers cannot be left to fight on their own, at such a critical time. We need the NHS, now more than ever. It is the task of the whole labour movement to come to its defence.
On Saturday, around 50 people gathered outside of the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, including Socialist Appeal supporters from Newcastle, Tyneside, and Durham.
Workers in attendance had organised at the grassroots, through groups such as NHS Workers Say NO! and Keep Our NHS Public. Yet shamefully, there was no official support from the local trade union leadership.
After marching to Grey’s Monument in the city centre, protesters shared their grievances over the open mic.
Fiona Cook, a senior nurse currently employed at the regional vaccination hub, said: “For the last ten years, we’ve been on a pay freeze […] having been given six percent over three years. Yet for the majority of us, we did not receive six percent. Personally, I got about four percent.”
South Tyneside Green Party were also in attendance, with Elaine Francis, their campaign coordinator, saying: “The Green Party is the only major party to have passed a motion at conference to support the 15% pay rise we’re demonstrating for today. And we’re really proud to be fully supporting the NHS.”
But frustratingly, these are just empty words. Only months ago, the Green Party formed an alliance with the Tories on Durham County Council. They also voted to install the new Tory leader of Lancaster City Council. We can hardly expect them to stand up for the NHS against Tory attacks, whilst simultaneously propping up the Tories in power.
Others commented on the mass exodus of staff from the health service; and on the backroom deals and corruption weighing down the response to the pandemic. Unfortunately, the political content of these statements were fairly limited – but our comrades nevertheless put across bold socialist demands and slogans.
Daniel Harris from Durham explained: “It’s because they’re acting under a capitalist system. The NHS will never be safe under capitalism!.”
“Nothing will change unless we kick out the Tory government and have a socialist planned economy,” Daniel added, emphasising that this is indeed a political struggle.
South East London
Comrades from New Cross, Lewisham, and Greenwich showed our support for the NHS protests on Saturday, visiting both Lewisham Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital where protests were held.
The NHS was created as a result of the struggle of the working class 73 years ago. Today, we must stop the Tories who are tearing it apart piece by piece – and this was what the campaigners we spoke to had come out to do.
Efforts to privatise the health service haven’t gone unnoticed, and the union members we spoke to told us about their determination to fight back.
Comrades helped distribute leaflets to passers-by and talked with them about the dire situation facing the NHS. Two comrades also spoke at the Lewisham demo, highlighting the way that capitalism finds a way to turn even the most basic of human needs into something it can profit from. One young comrade, speaking passionately, stirred up the crowd and received an ovation!
While the NHS is clearly under attack from all quarters, these protests showed that NHS workers and their supporters in the labour movement won’t take the efforts to sell it off lying down. We need to kick out the profit motive from the health service once and for all. Socialism is what will cure the problems the NHS faces!