Socialist Worker

NHS revolt sweeps across the country

by Joseph Choonara
Issue No. 2022

Trade union placards were prominent on the Huntingdon protest  (Pic: Paul Turnbull)

Trade union placards were prominent on the Huntingdon protest  (Pic: Paul Turnbull)

One thousand marching in Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire. Thousands of demonstrators at Worthing and Southlands, Sussex, linking hands around two hospitals under threat.

Hundreds more pushing a hospital bed from Hemel Hempstead to Watford to oppose NHS cuts in Hertfordshire. Protests from Southampton on the south coast to Huddersfield in Yorkshire.

Last weekend saw the latest flurry of protests against health cuts. Many cuts are centred on small towns and rural or suburban areas, where much loved but “uneconomical” units are savaged in the name of “efficiency”.

Protests have been biggest where whole hospitals or wards are threatened, often far exceeding the expectations of demonstration organisers and the police.

But there have also been substantial protests over less “glamorous” issues such as mental health cuts in Cambridgeshire, or less tangible issues such as plans to open an “independent sector treatment centre” in Southampton, draining money away from the NHS.

In some areas Tory MPs and councillors have cynically put themselves at the head of movements against health cuts, but increasingly the left and the unions are also involved.

The Unison union was key to organising last weekend’s demonstration in Huntingdon.

The previous weekend’s demonstration in Epsom, Surrey, saw a proliferation of union banners.

Campaign groups such as Health Emergency have strong links to the union movement. Health Emergency’s head of campaigns Geoff Martin said, “An extraordinary grassroots movement against government policy on hospital closures and privatisation is putting thousands of people on the streets every weekend in villages, towns and cities the length and breadth of the country.

“There’s been nothing like this since the spontaneous rebellion against the poll tax in the early 1990s.

“The government is right to be worried.

“The full scale of their closure programme, which will involve up to 60 major acute hospitals, has yet to hit home, and when it does the scale of the protest will ratchet up several notches.

“This growing NHS protest could well do for New Labour what the poll tax did for Margaret Thatcher and the Tories.”

Make London lobby a focus for anger

Health unions have united as the NHS Together campaign and are organising a lobby of parliament in London from 11am on 1 November.

Unions and campaigns across the country are planning transport for this event.

Karen Reissmann, chair of the Manchester community and mental health branch of Unison, says, “The North West region TUC is putting on four free coaches for the lobby - it has never done anything like this before, and it is a big step forwards.

“Trade unions are pulling out the stops for the lobby. We have just heard that huge cuts are to be made in our trust so we are planning to take a train down to join the protest.

“I expect up to 100 people to attend and we will have a press event at the station before the train leaves. Other union branches around the country are organising transport. There’s huge backing for this.”

For more information on the lobby go to Tickets for the North West TUC coaches available from the Unison union regional office. Call 0161 2111 000.

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