Peugeot, the NHS and pensions

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Doctors angrily demonstrate outside Downing Street on friday against new regulations that discriminate against Commonwealth doctors training in Britain
Doctors angrily demonstrate outside Downing Street on friday against new regulations that discriminate against Commonwealth doctors training in Britain

THE crisis of capitalism is now erupting in Britain with massive force.

The government has declared that the bankrupt capitalist system cannot afford final salary pension schemes and the longer life spans that people are said to be enjoying.

Its solution is to put up the retirement age to 68 years in stages, so that millions will never reach retirement age, and then to take measures to abolish all final salary pensions schemes.

On the NHS the same process is at work. It was affordable in the bombed out Britain of 1948, but the ruling class ‘cannot afford it’ now.

The real reason is that in the present period of slump, imperialist wars and massive inflation of raw material prices, big business wants the NHS budget used to help it make profits.

At first, this is taking the form of private medicine being raised from the dead by handing it billions from the NHS budget to do NHS work for a big profit.

NHS hospitals are going bust under the Blair government while the private medical industry is getting fat out of consuming the NHS budget.

This is just a stage in the privatisation of the NHS. The next stage, if the bosses are successful, will see American style private health insurance take the place of national insurance.

Then there is the projected closure of Peugeot. This is considered a ‘normal’ event by Blair and his supporters, an example of global capital moving to where it can get a higher return on its investment. In the House of Commons at question time Blair described the closure of Peugeot as ‘inevitable’. The attitude of the reformist trade union bureaucracy to all these attacks is straightforward.

The Welfare State was won by the struggle of the working class at the end of the Second World War. It demanded a Welfare State, and threatened a revolution. What was gained by the struggle of the working class, the reformist trade union bureaucracy which believes that capitalism is the only possible form of society, is willing to negotiate away.

Their motto is enjoy a boom, because we (meaning you) will all suffer when capitalism slumps.

On pensions, the union leaders have already got rid of final salary pensions, and retirement at 60 for all new starters, in the civil service, the fire service and the NHS.

As a variation, in local government, the union leaders have agreed to end retirement at 60, and that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott be the final arbiter on a new and inferior pension scheme for all local government workers. To show ‘good faith’ to the bosses and Blair they have cancelled the strikes that they scheduled. They are willing to negotiate away a great gain of the working class.

On the NHS, the greatest gain of the working class, the major trade union leaders and the TUC have not even called a national demonstration, when it is obvious that a general strike is needed to defend the NHS by bringing down Blair.

On Peugeot, TGWU leader, Tony Woodley, who refused to fight the closure of BMW, organised the closure of Vauxhall Motors in Luton, and accepted the closure of the Longbridge plant, has now admitted that the projected closure of Peugeot ‘has been the single biggest unkept secret in the car industry’.

All the trade union leaders who are simulating fury about the closure knew it was coming, and they are now pledging to force the government to keep it open. Blair however has called the closure inevitable. These leaders huff and puff but they will not fight.

What is needed is the occupation of Peugeot, and the calling of a general strike by the TUC to bring down Blair and bring in a workers’ government that will smash capitalism and bring in socialism.

What is required is the building of a new revolutionary leadership in the movement to lead this struggle. This leadership is the WRP. Join it today.