NHS workers’ protests —Determined to build action to save the NHS

by Paula Mitchell, Socialist Party workplace and industrial organiser

Also in The Socialist this week: Fight is on the save our NHS

On Saturday 3 July, in towns and cities all over the country, NHS workers were joined by their local communities on protests to defend the NHS from privatisation and for a decent pay rise, rejecting the 1% insult the Tories have proposed. We support the health workers’ campaigning for a 15% rise.

In many cases, Socialist Party members helped to initiate and organise the protests. Our speakers and our leaflets laid out a clear strategy. We said that NHS workers, organised in trade unions and backed up by community campaigns, can build a mighty movement.

We demanded that the leaders of the trade unions lead – prepare for coordinated strike action on pay and to save the NHS.

The very next day the Tories delivered a second slap in the face to NHS workers with their declaration that they will proceed with their new health and care bill.

London — Photo: Paul Mattsson

If it is like the White Paper, it will mean an extension of privatisation in the NHS, a reduction in the already very limited democratic oversight, and further steps towards the break-up of a national service.

This is the reward for 16 months of NHS staff working themselves to exhaustion to save lives. More juicy contracts bunged to the Tories’ big business mates with even less scrutiny and transparency than before.

Disgracefully, the main health union Unison did not back the protests, and so it was left to local trade unionists and campaigners. But now, following a shift to the left on Unison’s national executive council (NEC) in the recent elections, there is the chance for that to change.

At the protest in central London on Saturday, hospital worker, newly elected member of Unison’s NEC, and Socialist Party member Naomi Byron, put out the call, in a personal capacity, for Unison to organise a demonstration outside Parliament when the health and care bill is discussed. She also outlined how the union should coordinate with other unions and campaigns to organise a national demonstration in the autumn against the Tory bill, and to help build the campaign on pay.

This campaign for action has to be allied to a campaign for a genuine working-class political voice. Keir Starmer’s Labour has clearly demonstrated its determination to wipe out any vestige of the fighting programme on the NHS that Jeremy Corbyn stood for, and that enthused so many.

NHS workers, like workers in all other sectors, need political representation – a new mass party of working-class and young people, with a fighting socialist programme for the NHS and care, and for jobs, homes and services for all.

Waltham Forest, East London

by Isai Priya, London Socialist Party

Len Hockey, Unite branch secretary,
speaks at Whipps Cross Hospital
Photo: Paula Mitchell

Socialist Party members in Waltham Forest took part in the protest outside Whipps Cross Hospital. The protest was initiated and organised by Waltham Forest Trades Council after Len Hockey, a Socialist Party member and Unite branch secretary at Barts Health NHS Trust, moved a motion calling for a local protest. Unite Barts supported the protest and distributed leaflets to all its members and hospital staff.

Over 80 people gathered outside the junction to the hospital. Whipps Cross workers have a history of strikes, picket lines and victories against the effects of privatisation. Unite Barts has also been involved in a strike at the Royal London Hospital.

The support for the NHS was felt as many car drivers tooted and raised their fists in the air. Kevin Parslow, assistant general secretary of the trades council, introduced the open mic, highlighting the important role of the trade union movement in fighting to save our NHS. Len Hockey spoke next and called for a 15% pay rise for NHS workers.

We also had Socialist Party members James Ivens and Sarah Sachs -Eldridge, outline our programme for a socialist NHS, and put forward our call for a protest on the day the new Tory health bill goes to parliament.

UCLH, central London

Naomi Byron, Unison NEC, speaks in a
personal capacity, central London
Photo: Chris Newby

Naomi Byron, outsourced hospital worker, Socialist Party member and newly elected member of Unison’s national executive council (in a personal capacity), spoke to the crowd of 500 who protested outside of University College Hospital London and marched through central London.

She said: “It is clear that asking nicely, and having reasoned arguments, is not enough. The government is determined to push through an incredibly insulting pay offer for NHS staff.

“They are also planning to push through the health and care bill to increase privatisation and break up more parts of the NHS. Our response to these attacks needs to be just as determined, if not more so. Because there are a lot more of us, and if we unite and campaign together, we have much more power than the government.”

We stand with NHS workers!

4TH JULY 2021

Socialist party members out in force. In the rain or in the sunshine we will stand with NHS workers to build the fight back needed to win 15%. This weak Tory government of u-turns will continue to cut back, and privatise our vital services. Starmer doesn’t offer much different. We need a mass movement to force out the Tories and to build a real anti-austerity party to replace them.

Other photos HERE.