The Day X for the NHS demonstration in London last week marked a new way of organising that has implications for health workers across Britain.
A network of activists in a range of NHS unions built the thousand-strong march. They were joined by some who are not in a union—either because they are students, or because they don’t see them as relevant.
They were not bound by bureaucratic procedures that normally govern union events. Lack of any action from the official trade union bodies led ordinary health workers to “self-organise”. We decided the day of the action, the route of the march—and we built it.
We deliberately called it “Day X” because we were inspired by the students’ protests. Instead of different unions competing with one another, we shared responsibilities and ideas in a bid to make it a success.
On the day, it was fantastic to see nurses, doctors, occupational therapists, mental health workers, nursing assistants and admin staff on the streets. But it was the addition of so many student nurses and medics that transformed the demo into something more akin to last year’s college protests.
We built the demonstration using a network of health workers to leaflet our own workplaces and visit others. We were also supported by local anti-cuts organisations.
A wide range of people got involved. Student nurses canvassed halls of residence and lectures, nurses leafletted wards, doctors postered their surgeries. We also ran stalls at anti-cuts demonstrations all over London.
The people we spoke to were desperate to protest, and excited that we were going to march through the City.
We got the details of more workers on the day, and have decided to form the Health Workers Network—a group for everyone in the NHS who wants to fight back.
Some may argue that the success of Day X and the development of the network mean we can bypass the unions. This would be a mistake. We need to take the spirit of Day X into the unions and argue for them to fight back.
The power to beat the cuts and the defeat the Tories lies with health workers. But, ultimately, we will have to strike if we are to win—so the unions will be key.
The network, and future protests, can help us give shape to the anger in our workplaces at the cuts. They can also help us transform NHS unions into vibrant centres of resistance.