By Mike Fenwick
The TUC has successfully led the formation of an alliance of 12 unions and professional bodies to fight the privatisation of the health service. This lead is very welcome considering the passivity of the unions in response to the cuts so far. The breadth of the alliance, which includes non-TUC bodies such as the RCN and BMA, means it will unite the vast majority of NHS staff in one campaign. Given the historic rivalry and antagonisms between some of the organisation involved this is a real step forward.
The new campaign is a formal recognition of the scale of the cuts being proposed. Already the introduction of Independent, Sector Treatment Centres, PFI, LIFT etc have opened up opportunities for the private sector to start pulling money, staff and profit out of the NHS.
The next wave of reforms, that will take the commissioning of healthcare services out of the hands of GPs, would mean the majority of the NHS budget being in the gift of management consultants. The initial uproar when this was proposed quickly died down and Patricia Hewitt’s backtracking only lasted a few weeks before she re-presented the proposal largely unchanged.
The unions have begun to recognise that friendly chats and briefings to MPs have had no impact. Only open community campaigning activity up and down the country is going to make a difference.
The outline programme of action includes activity at both Labour Party and TUC conferences, a lobby of parliament, regional action in October and a national demonstration in London in February next year. With a background of local activity on a weekly basis over local cuts and sackings there is a growing momentum towards the development of a national campaign.
The hope is to combine the vibrancy and initiative of the local campaigns with the resources and infrastructure the big unions can offer. Certainly the TUC campaign should not be counterposed to existing campaigns and activity.
Hundreds of local demonstrations, protests and petitions in the last year have created the conditions under which the TUC have been forced to act mobilising thousands into activity. These activities must continue whilst plans for regional and national action are confirmed. The cuts won’t wait because there is a national demonstration next year - urgent action is still needed.
Possibilities are now opening up and the new forces the unions can bring should be brought into action now.
• At Labour Party Conference the unions should push for an emergency debate on the NHS which simply says stop the privatisation now to highlight the strength and scale of the opposition inside Blair’s own party.
• The unions should get fully involved in local groups such as Keep Our NHS Public with a view to developing links between community activists and health workers.
• Union branches, for instance in UNISON, can apply for campaign funding for general political campaigning bringing new resources into local campaigns.
• In each hospital meetings should be organised with representatives from all the different professions and organisations to jointly plan local events.
• Starting to think now of local and regional action to highlight issues around closures and cutbacks. Connecting with local concerns of communities is the best way to motivate people into action.
• Much more information on local news and events can be found at the Keep Our NHS Public website.