MSF says no privatisation
By Helen Shooter
DELEGATES TO the MSF union conference in Eastbourne delivered their verdict on Blair's plans for a second term last weekend. They voted overwhelmingly to oppose New Labour's privatisation of the NHS through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and public-private partnerships (PPP).
"Whether it is PFI or PPP, it is privatisation whatever you call it," said Gerald Ramsden, a delegate from West Yorkshire. Opposition to privatisation strikes a chord with the general public. New Labour believes it has a mandate to continue privatisation. It does not."
The vote is a blow to Roger Lyons, head of the MSF union, who loyally backs New Labour. It is also a warning shot to Ken Jackson, leader of the AEEU union, which the MSF is in the process of merging with. The NHS debate on Sunday ignited the whole conference. Before the debate there was a subdued mood amongst the delegates.
There was no enthusiasm for New Labour's second term. Only a minority reluctantly clapped the video message from Tony Blair broadcast to the conference on Saturday. Yet delegates broke into wide applause when Theresa Marrinan, a Leeds delegate and health worker, said in the NHS debate, "Privatisation of the NHS would be a historic defeat for the working class.
"We have to send a message to Tony Blair-we will not accept you privatising the health service. We need to actively campaign and support workers on strike against it." Janet Harrison, a delegate from Norwich, spoke about the newly built PFI hospital in her area. She said, "When it opens in October the company will have made �70 million in financial transactions. Meanwhile the health authority is scrabbling around to find �6.5 million to pay the first year's rental."
Another delegate, Naledi Kline, said, "The government may be giving us assurances but we cannot accept them. They have to do a U-turn on PFI-that is what we and the public demand." Aneez Esmail, a health worker delegate, added, "This has to be a defining issue for us as trade unionists. We have to draw a line in the sand." The MSF's national executive tried three times to water down motions opposing NHS privatisation.
But delegates voted overwhelmingly against this every time. The executive urged delegates to vote for an amendment that would replace the words "opposition to" public-private partnerships with "concerns with".
"We shouldn't just be 'concerned with' these-we should be fundamentally opposed to privatisation," said Dave Hutchinson from the West Yorkshire region. "This amendment would give the executive a year to sit on their hands and do nothing. Privatisation is happening now."
Delegates cried "Shame!" as an executive member tried to defend their position. Conference delegates also showed their support for workers in other unions fighting privatisation. They voted to congratulate rail workers in the RMT and ASLEF unions for striking against tube privatisation, and to send �5,000 to the Dudley health workers who held a ten-month strike against PFI.
DELEGATES VOTED overwhelmingly to affiliate to the Anti Nazi League (ANL) for the first time. The vote was fuelled by deep concern with the British National Party's vote in Oldham. Two delegates from Oldham urged the conference to support the ANL. Some 70 delegates attended a Socialist Alliance fringe meeting at the conference addressed by Liz Davies and Dave Nellist.