Tens of thousands of people gathered for the NHS at 70 national demonstration in central London this Saturday.
It was called by Health Campaigns Together and the People’s Assembly ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the NHS.
As its birthday approaches on 5 July, the health service faces Tory cuts and privatisation.
A lively bloc of strikers from Wigan are at the head of the march. They are in the middle of their latest five-day walkout against bosses’ plans to outsource 900 porters, cleaners and other support staff jobs.
Jack, a striking Unison union member, told Socialist Worker, “We’re here to show that we’re not going to give up the fight. We had 49 come down on the coach, but we've still got a picket line up in Wigan to keep everything strong.”
Anthony, another striker, added, “We’re here to fight for the NHS because we know what's at stake. It’s back door privatisation—we're not the only hospital where they're trying to outsource people’s jobs.”
He added, “They say it’s all about cutting down costs, but there’s more managers than beds.”
Terry Morrisson from York argued, "There can never be a second when we avert our attention from the struggle. If we do, the Tories will rip the NHS away from us. My life was saved by the NHS at its beginning and near it's end.
"My mother worked in a munitions factory when it cost 18 shillings to see the doctor, an impossibly large sum."
Coaches have come from across the country with groups from health campaigns and trade unions.
Cathy had come as part of a delegation from Chorley, Lancashire, where health campaigners are fighting to reinstate a 24-hour A&E. “It was closed in 2016 but after much campaigning we got it open for 12 hours,” she told Socialist Worker.
“But we’re keeping going until we get it open for 24 hours.”
Retired nurse Alicia travelled from Oxfordshire to join the protest. “The NHS has been a massive part of my life. I was involved in the 1981 nurses’ strike while I was a student nurse.
“The NHS needs a very good injection of money. They can do that by shaving off the top wages of senior managers – we don’t need them, nurses can manage wards.”
Sharon from Liverpool agreed. “The government should take responsibility and look at where they’re spending money. Why are MPs getting above inflation pay rises while the rest of us suffer?”
She added that privatisation sucks more money out of key services.
“When private providers take over it’s like a pit which swallows up money,” she said.
“We need everyone to be involved in this fight. If we had protests like this in every city the Tories would start noticing.”
Jeremy Corbyn is due to speak at the rally in Whitehall and many people on the demonstration are looking to Labour to stop the Tories' assault. Cathy said, “It’s all lies and spin with Theresa May, but it’s more and more apparent that this government wants to privatise the NHS.
“We need a change of government—and Labour has the only manifesto that promises renationalisation.”
As the march prepared to leave people heard speeches from campaigners, MPs and others.
They included vice chair of Health Campaigns Together Tony O’Sullivan. “We are here to celebrate the NHS, but also to defend it and fight for it,” he said.
“The Tories are deliberately cutting nursing jobs, they are cutting the number of doctors.”
Labour MP Richard Burgon argued that the NHS was an example of socialism. “To those who say socialism doesn’t work I say, look at the NHS.
“Conservative politicians resent the NHS. They want to introduce an American-style health system.”
He argued that the NHS would be safe in Labour’s hands, implying that people can wait and vote to make the NHS safe.
The message from other speakers was for people to get out and fight now.
And a speaker from the Stand Up To Trump campaign said protesters should come out and oppose Trump when he comes on 13 July.