Anger at Tory attacks on the NHS burst on to the streets of London today, Saturday.
More than 200,000 people from all over England and Wales joined a national demonstration for the NHS said the organisers Health Campaigns Together and the People’s Assembly.
The march crystallised the fury against the Tories which is so often ignored by the media and most politicians. It should give a boost to everyone battling to save the NHS and see a further push for defiant local campaigns—and pressure on union leaders to call strikes.
Mark, a Unite union member from Essex, told Socialist Worker, “The government is hell bent on destroying the NHS.
“We were all born in it, we all use it, we’ve all got to fight for it.”
There was also a warm welcome on the march for the message that migrant workers are not to blame for the NHS crisis and that the Tories’ disgusting talk of “health tourism” is an attempt to divert the blame.
Sam, a student from Wolverhampton, said, “Without migrants there wouldn’t be an NHS. Migrant workers sustain the NHS, The Tories are trying to divide us.”
At the rally Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn slammed the Tories’ attacks on the NHS and their attempts to scapegoat migrant workers. He said, “The NHS is in crisis, in crisis because of the underfunding in social care and the people not getting the care and support they need.
“There are those waiting on trolleys and those who are desperate to get into an A&E department waiting hours for treatment. It is not the fault of the staff. It is the fault of a government who have made a political choice.
“All of the European nationals working in this country have every right to remain in this country.
“We will stand up for their right to remain here.”
A phalanx of campaigners in red hoodies came from Grantham in Lincolnshire.
Their campaign started in defence of the local hospital but has now broadened its focus.
Its organiser—nurse and cancer patient Sarah Stock—said, “I had my op six months ago, now the cancer of think tanks, management structures and government-enforced changes needs to be cut out of the NHS.
“We were clear from the start this wasn’t just a local issue. The campaigns are coming together. Theresa May had better watch out.”
The Tories are ramping up their assault on the health service with plans to axe hospital departments and services across England.
But this has also strengthened resistance. Samantha a Unison union member and council worker said, “We had full coaches from Southend and Basildon in Essex to the demonstration.
“We want to build a mass campaign now across the area to stop the cuts plans.”
John from Chorley in Lancashire is part of a campaign against the downgrading of the local accident and emergency department to an urgent care centre. “Every Saturday we’re holding protests outside the main gates,” he told Socialist Worker.
“It’s now only open 12 hours instead of 24 so if anyone needs to use it outside that time they have to go 20 miles away to Preston.”
The demonstration brought together health campaigners and trade unionists, but there were also people who’ve been pulled into the struggle by the movement against Trump and racism.
Emma from Manchester told Socialist Worker, “I went to the protest against Donald Trump in Manchester and heard about today there.
“The government had said that we can’t afford to pay for health and pensions—and now they’re taking money off poorer people.”
One popular chant was “Dump Trump, Dump May, NHS is here to stay”.
There were large numbers of Labour Party members.
Gary is chair of Newbury and West Berkshire Constituency Labour Party and a Unite member. “We have to fight to defend the NHS with everything we can,” he told Socialist Worker.
At the rally shadow chancellor John McDonnell demanded “an emergency injection of cash into social care” from the Tories in Wednesday’s budget speech. He said, “I want to pay a debt of honour to the junior doctors who took action last year.” He told NHS workers: “We will be with you, whether in parliament or on the picket line.”
The demonstration was backed by the Unison, Unite and GMB unions among many others.
Mark, a nurse, told Socialist Worker, “We’ve got to build on today and organise health workers to take on the Tories.”
It will take a mass campaign, including industrial action, to repel the Tories’ assault. Jackie Berry from Unison told the rally, “We find out on Wednesday what pay offer we’ll be given, we’ve already 14 percent worse off since 2010.
“If it’s more of the same then it’s up to our unions and union leaders to ballot us and deliver coordinated industrial action.”
Mark Serwotka, PCS union general secretary, was making his first public appearance since a heart transplant. He talked about the life saving treatment he has received and thanked all the NHS staff who make the service possible.
He railed against the Tories’ attacks on migrant workers. He said, “If migrants hadn’t come to this country and propped up our NHS I wouldn’t be standing here today. Migrants and refugees should be welcomed to this country.”
Jill and Joanne travelled with a big delegation from Halton Unison local government branch in Cheshire, north west England. Many of those protesting work in overstretched, underfunded social care services.
Jill said she had come because, “I want people to survive not die young.”
She spoke of her recent experience of six ambulances lined up outside her local hospital, unable to respond to an emergency. The NHS beds crisis meant paramedics could not admit their patients to hospital.
Joanne works in adult social care and knows well the devastating effect of Tory austerity.
She said, “Every day we’re dealing with crisis. People leave and don’t get replaced while workloads go through the roof.”
They both work in a Labour-run authority where tens of millions of pounds in cuts have been made.
Joanne argued, “A Labour authority is implementing Tory cuts. I don’t think they should. They could fight back more.”
Jill hopes today’s march will “make the government listen” though she’s not holding her breath. But she said, “The NHS is ours. I strongly believe in it. We can’t let them run it down to privatise it. We say pay staff properly and put in the resources that are needed.”
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