Saturday, March 03, 2007

NHS day of action

There was a regional demonstration in Cambridge today as part of the day of action to defend the NHS called by the TUC's NHS Together. It was immediately preceded by a trade union organised "conference" in a venue yards from the start of the march.

The conference had places for just one hundred participants and (apparently) consisted of being talked at by a representative of each union to say how bad everything was with no chance of discussion, planning or debate. Why were there only a hundred places "because that's the size room we booked" ummm.... Not the most worthwhile way to while away a few hours, but never mind.

The demo was rather more successful in that a few hundred turned out from around the region, Cambridgeshire (obviously), Ipswich, Colchester, Norwich, Chelmsford and Stevenage had all sent people down (and no doubt a few others places) and the march was reasonably lively and good natured.

It was noticeable however that a large portion of those who'd come from afar were left activists and in fact I recognised most of the Cambridge people too... whilst the demo was respectable in size it did not extend into the communities. Whether that's because people are pessimistic about the prospects for change or it had not been built seriously (a combination of both I suspect) who's to say. There was certainly a feeling that the unions themselves had not backed the day of action that they themselves had called.

The demo as pictured in CENHowever, as I mentioned before, it's clear that people feel very deeply about the state of the national health service and we need to translate that concern into something more substantial than a march of a few hundred people, that makes worthy statements but has no prospect of effecting change.

That's one of the reasons why it was so disappointing that the union conference, which had spent time and effort bringing rank and file trade unionists together to discuss the NHS, did not use the opportunity to get them talking. A rally where we hear things are bad just don't cut it.

We need to re-energise the health unions, tap into the community anger over the cuts in services and attempt to build a real progressive movement in defence of public services. Going beyond the existing left (which the Cambridge demo certainly did not do) is essential for any campaign to be effective and whilst its nice to be able to pick up a copy of Socialist Appeal, The Socialist and/or Socialist Worker all in one place (or be handed a copy of the notorious "What we're doing") this is not what's required, and whether the left always contributes as much as it detracts is a point we can debate all night if we're so inclined.

This day of action could have been a start but it just feels like the health unions are more worried about rocking Labour's boat than stepping up to the plate in a serious way. God knows how you make them do that though when health workers themselves often feel disempowered and demoralised.

Liam and Duncan, Life with Leukaemia, Greenman and Phil have all posted on the day of action (comment with a link if you've also posted on it and I'll add you to the list) Also the BBC, LibCom, News & Star (Cumbria), TUC


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim, I've finally got round to making a few comments about the regional in Brum.

Anonymous said...

I went to the rally in Leeds. Over 100 people in a nice venue. Big platform of different trade unionists. There was quite a bit of audience-supported and applauded heckling about the poor job of mobilization done by unions, especially Amicus. Leeds TUC blamed itself for delays. The audience was clearly in the mood for something a lot more militant than what ws being offered by the unions, and although that audience had a smattering of the left eager to get in on the discussion, the majority were clearly health workers.

Different left approaches very noticeable. An AWL activist was on the platform on behalf of the community campaigning group (deservedly, put the work in)and spoke very well - getting a mention of John McDonnell in. SWP spoke as 'concerned citizen'and wanted a slightly more militant demand than deferring Trust debts. Workers Power (or 'Andy from Revo')also spoke well and eventually raised the need for a new workers party. I was surprised at the number of young people in Amicus campaigning sashes until I looked closer and realised it was a line of Workers Powewr/Revo activists - they'd put their stickers on the sash. No demo for us, but an afternoon of petitioning - but there was a downpour and I made my way to work.

Tom Woodcock said...

Jim, I agree with your analysis of the conference in that they completely under cooked the size of the room and there was no debate. However with the people in there (not oall lefty activists) i believe that the debate would have been good, THe conference provided a good starting point.

The march on the other hand was not just a bunch of your regular left activists. Belive me if it had it would have been much smaller. There were a significant number who came out from the stop the war coaches we ran to london last week, a good show from the turkish/kurdish group and quite a number who we canvassed in Romsey last week.

To me this proves that the public, when mobilised, is ready for a fight. Now what we have to do is be possitive, push the unions and build for a good turn out from the region on the national demo.

This should start with the a good show in huntingdon Health demo on the 17th March.

Phone me for details of coaches from Cambridge: 0771 2893552

Jim Jepps said...

Well I recognised *almost* everyone there... including from round the region