'I call on everyone to attend this Saturday's march and rally in Birmingham. We can make a difference.' That statement comes from Steve Godward, the divisional secretary of West Midlands Fire Brigades Union, urging support for the anti-privatisation demonstration in Birmingham.
The march will end with a lobby of Gisela Stuart. She is a Birmingham New Labour MP and health minister. Saturday's demonstration was called by the 600 striking ancillary workers at Dudley Group of Hospitals.
They have been taking strike action since August to stop the NHS trust handing their jobs over to a private company. The march is a focus for other local groups who are furious that vital services are under attack from New Labour's privatisation policies.
Steve says, 'As an FBU member I stood and watched Labour councillors grunt through the introduction of PFI into the fire service, and put our communities at risk by closing Aldridge and Bloxwich fire stations and build one PFI replacement. 'We have great concerns that public safety is at risk. I never voted to mortgage my kids' future through privatisation of our public services. That is why I have resigned my Labour membership. They don't represent my class.'
Firefighters, their families and friends planned to march from Birmingham central fire station and join with local UCATT union members on the way. Local UCATT official Neil Vernon joined Angela Thompson, Dudley striker and Socialist Alliance candidate, on a Radio West Midlands programme last week to publicise Saturday's march.
UCATT members, alongside other local council manual workers, face the privatisation of their jobs in the housing repairs and maintenance department. Repairs They are angry that the Labour-run council has tried to scapegoat them for the backlog in housing repairs.
They planned a protest on Saturday outside the offices of the Evening Mail, which has printed the council's lies. In reality the council has been running down the service in preparation for its planned privatisation of all 95,000 council homes. Some 30 elderly people's homes are also under threat from privatisation in Birmingham. This has sparked a massive campaign, RAGE, whose supporters were due to bring the campaign banner on the march.
Health workers and campaigners were also set to join Saturday's march against the closure of two local hospitals and their replacement with one PFI hospital. The shutdown of the Queen Elizabeth and Selly Oak hospitals will mean the loss of 50 beds when services are already stretched.
John Gatling, who is part of the campaign to save the hospitals, said, 'Saturday is a good opportunity to link up all the campaigns and bring our struggles together.' The Dudley health strikers are at the forefront of the growing resistance to privatisation.
Their battle has forced the NHS trust to again delay signing the contract to hand over jobs to private firm Summit Healthcare. Saturday's march sends a message to New Labour-trade unionists and campaigners are determined to beat privatisation.
Birmingham march for public services, this Saturday, 3 March, assemble 10.30am, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham