Health campaigners and NHS workers across Britain on Saturday joined forces to do battle for the NHS.
There were dozens of protests in towns and cities to mark the health service 73rd birthday—and highlight the Tory threat to it.
Some 250 gathered for a lively protest outside University College Hospital in London.
They are also angry that the NHS is under attack from cuts and privatisation.
Livia, a doctor in central London, told Socialist Worker, “The NHS was already stretched before the pandemic, now it's even more stretched.
“We don’t want our healthcare system to be private, like in the US. Healthcare should be free at the point of use and available to all.
“We need to keep protesting and we need more unions on board—we all want the same thing.”
The protest marched to Downing Street and was greeted by central London shoppers. Passing drivers beeped their horns and applauded as protesters chanted, “Boris Johnson hear us shout, pay us properly or get out.”
Amerit, a health worker from the Whittington hospital in north London, told Socialist Worker, “Everyone needs to support the NHS. That means opposing privatisation attempts—and it means giving staff a 15 percent pay rise.
“Ultimately, I'm here to defend and fight for a healthcare system that's in public ownership. All services should be in public ownership.”
Those sentiments were backed by Labour MP John McDonnell who spoke at the rally in Whitehall.
“Thanks to what you've done in the NHS over the pandemic. You’ve saved many lives, but you’ve paid the price,” he said.
“15 percent is what we want and 15 percent is what we’ll get—we won’t stop fighting.
“I call on Keir Starmer and other Labour politicians to back the 15 percent demand and join the protests and picket lines. I also call on my union, Unison, to back a 15 percent pay rise.
Saturday’s protests showed just how angry health workers are—both about pay and the running down of the NHS.
But they could have been many times bigger had health unions given them national backing.
All the main leaders shrugged off invitations to join the demonstrations. Leaders of the giant Unison union went further and opposed the marches.
They have so far offered almost no resistance to the onslaught against health workers and show few signs of taking the battle over pay seriously.
Instead, it was left to rank and file health workers, local trade unionists and campaign groups, including Keep Our NHS Public, to organise action.
With the NHS Pay Review body’s recommendation imminent, it is vital that health workers continue to show the union leaders the level of anger that exists. And that they keep pushing them for action.
Hundreds protest in towns across Britain
Despite torrential rain there were marches in all the main cities, with around 200 each in Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.
Many campaigners were furious with NHS Test and Trace boss Dido Harding.
The would-be boss of the NHS last month said that if she got the top job she’d try to rid the health service of “foreign” workers.
Anti-racists joined the protests to ram home the message that “migrant health workers are welcome here”.
Some smaller towns also managed a turnout with up to 100 in Blyth, on the coast of north east England. There were around 100 people demonstrating in Chesterfield, 70 at Whipps Cross hospital in east London, 60 in both Chester and Lancaster, 40 in Bournemouth and 30 in Hastings.
Thanks to the many Socialist Worker readers who sent reports and pictures