Health workers at the forefront of resisting privatisation are calling on people to join the march for the NHS in London on Saturday 30 June.
The date will be day three of a five-day strike for the 600 porters, cleaners and support workers in Wigan Borough. Unison and Unite union members have already held two 48-hour walkouts against plans to oursource their jobs. Unite union members are also set to strike on 27 June.
“The Tories want to get their grubby hands on the NHS and make as much money as possible,” striker Edmund told Socialist Worker. “In America people have to pay for treatment and that’s what they want here.
“But the NHS has always been a not-for-profit organisation—and that’s the way it should stay.”
Bosses at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust want to outsource 900 jobs to WWL Solutions Ltd. It is part of a growing army of “wholly-owned subsidiaries”—a dangerous new form of privatisation in England.
While the trust is the sole shareholder, workers would no longer be on the NHS pay roll. After a short period bosses can slash wages, terms and conditions for workers who transferred over—and hire new starters on worse contracts.
The aim is to make the NHS run more like a business. And by outsourcing estates and facilities departments, private developers will be able to get their hands on hospitals’ lucrative land portfolios.
Edmund said, “I think the Tories are trying to hit a lot of hospitals at the same time. What’s happening in Wigan is very similar to what they’re doing all around the country—there are fights in Leeds, Chesterfield and other places.”
The mushrooming of wholly-owned subsidiaries represents a broader push by Tories and bosses to break up the health service.
“People are angry about the threat to terms and conditions, and staying in the NHS means we would keep them,” said Edmund.
“But it’s also about the pride of working in the NHS. A porter might not be best job in the world. But you are doing a very good thing because you’re helping the patients—and that’s what it’s all about.”
As the NHS approaches its 70th birthday on 5 July, it’s far from in rude health. Years of Tory budget cuts and privatisation have overworked and driven out workers, and undermined patient care.
But hundreds of local campaigns have sprung up against the multitude of attacks. The NHS at
70 march is called by Health Campaigns Together, the People’s Assembly and the TUC. Backed by all the major trade unions, it’s a chance to bring together the fights and beat back the Tory assault.
As Edmund said, “The march in London is to protect the NHS, not just in the years in front of you.
“It’s not just about my future—it’s your kids, grandkids and families.”
Make cheques out to WWL Unison Welfare and send to Unison Office, Royal Albert Edward Infirmary, Wigan Lane, Wigan WN1 2NN
Don't go back to charges for crucial care
“During the war years my brother got pneumonia,” she told Socialist Worker.
“After the doctor came and treated him, we had to put aside six pence a week for months to pay off the bill. My father was a pitman and it was a lot of money.
“I used to get told feeling hungry is good, to this day I would never waste any food.”
Maureen joined the Wigan workers’ picket lines earlier this month because she’s determined to stop the Tories’ attempts to break up the NHS.
“We don’t want to go back to that again”, she said.
“People wouldn’t be able to afford to pay these days either. Only the middle and upper classes would be able to get treatment.”
What’s Labour promising?
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to “renationalise” the NHS has boosted health campaigners who’ve been battling the deluge of cuts, closures and privatisation.
And if he announced that he would join the NHS at 70 demonstration, it could add tens of thousands to its size.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth has said that he will reverse the latest drive to create “wholly-owned subsidiaries”.
But Labour’s manifesto did not always match up to the rhetoric.
It only promised to make the NHS the “preferred provider”, not to kick out all the privateers.
And even if the party shifts its position, the Tories could have four more years of wrecking the health service.
That’s why it is right to march—and strike—now, not just wait until the next general election in the hope of a Labour government.