10,000-Strong May Day March Demands ‘Defend The NHS!’

A section of the rally in Trafalgar Square
A section of the rally in Trafalgar Square

WORKERS and youth on the 10,000-strong May Day march in London on Sunday expressed their determination to defend the NHS and the Welfare State.

Many voiced their opposition to the EU dictatorship, austerity and its privatisation drive. Typical was John Hamilton of Lewisham People Before Profit who was stringing up a banner that read ‘No to CETA Leave the EU’.

He told News Line: ‘We’ve worked hard to inform people about the dangers of the free trade agreements CETA and TTIP because they would undermine local autonomy. I’d like to see the Tory government brought down. Leaving the EU would see the end of Cameron.’

Swaleside POA branch secretary Dave Todd said: ‘I’m for leaving the EU. There’s a lot of rubbish put out about the EU protecting workers’ rights. The government propaganda machine is in full flow, with their pamphlet costing taxpayers £10m.

‘There should be a general strike to bring this government down. We need to campaign for a general strike. A lot of unions should have come out for the junior doctors.’

Kate Dunning, London CWU regional committee assistant secretary, said: ‘This government doesn’t represent the masses. No one asked for the NHS to be privatised and sold off. No one asked for the privatisation of our education system or for our social housing stock to be sold off and replaced with private housing no one can afford.

‘They’ve brought in zero hours contracts ad there’s no prospect for youth who’ve been driven into cheap labour with no secure work at the end of it. Capitalism isn’t working, we need change.’

Ex-docker, now Unison member Kevin Hussey told News Line: ‘I’m for coming out of Europe. The EU is a dictatorship privatising everything. In Greece they are privatising public services and docks. I can’t understand the Labour Party. I know Blair was for privatisation but I thought the new man was different.

‘They’re in bed with Cameron, along with ex-TUC leader Brendan Barber. I support the junior doctors. The government is out to privatise the NHS and TTIP will make that easier. Other unions should take action with the junior doctors.

PCS national organiser John Coote said: ‘We haven’t advised our members on the EU at the moment. It will be an issue that is keenly discussed at our annual conference at the end of May. The other unions should take action with the junior doctors.

‘Our position is and has been for combined action, not leave one union to fight by themselves but to unite to bring this government down and defend all public services. We represent people providing services from the cradle to the grave.’

Dr Tony Agathangelou said: ‘I’m for leaving the EU – with Britain out Europe would be a better place. It would close down tax havens. I don’t agree with the argument that if we left we’ll be faced with endless Tory governments. The challenge is to tell people to never vote Tory again. The Tories are in crisis, the unions should take action and end these Tory cuts.’

In her speech before the march set off, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady echoed her deal with the Tories over the Trade Union Bill, warning ‘Brexit’ would threaten UK workers’ rights, jobs and wages. She continued to say the TUC supported the junior doctors.

However, she did not reveal that the TUC general council last Wednesday refused to agree to a Day of Action in support of the junior doctors as requested by the PCS and FBU. RMT member Jason Buck responded to News Line: ‘I don’t agree with Frances O’Grady. I’m for leaving the EU.

‘It’s up to the trade unions to fight for workers’ benefits. The EU is an unelected body and is for privatisation. TTIP is one of the worst aspects of it, making decisions on our behalf without us getting a say in it.

‘The Tory government is attacking every facet of our working life, our living conditions and our kids. I support the junior doctors, they’re defending the NHS. There should be a general strike to support them and all workers. We need a general strike to bring the Tories down.’

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told the Clerkenwell Green rally: ‘The Tory government is trying to bring in the Trade Union Bill to prevent trade unions from standing up for workers’ rights.’

He pledged that a Labour government would repeal anti-union legislation in 2020. He said: ‘We want it to be a positive right to join a union for anyone. The junior doctors are on the march to defend the NHS.

‘It’s disgraceful that the secretary of state for health is more interested in privatising 48% of the National Health Service than talking to junior doctors. We are here today to defend the NHS free at the point of need for all.’

He went on to condemn the housing crisis and pledge a ‘massive council house building programme’ under a Labour government. He added: ‘We have to stand against racism in any form. We stood up against apartheid in South Africa. Now we stand up against the far right attacks on migrant workers.

‘We stand absolutely against anti-semitism in any form. We stand united in diversity. Those attacking London mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan, on the basis of religion, shame on you.’

A lively WRP and Young Socialists delegation won support for their slogans ‘Vote “Leave” bring down the Tories! No privatisation, defend the NHS! Support junior doctors with a general strike! One Palestine, Zionism out!’ Their lead banner read: ‘Vote “LEAVE” the EU to defeat Cameron and EU dictatorship.’

Marching with the YS were Chagos Islanders with their banner reading: ‘We are Chagossians Respect our rights and Dignity.’ Frankie Bontemps told News Line: ‘We are fighting for our right to return to Diego Garcia and the whole of the Chagos Islands.

‘We want our voice to be heard here in Britain. We want the British unions to take action in our support, we need everyone’s help. Since we came to the UK, families are divided because of the British immigration laws. The Chagossian issue is an exceptional case and the government should take notice of that.’

The West London Council of Action was marching with its banner ‘Keep Ealing Hospital Open – Occupy to stop all closures!’

Burnt Oak YS member Masih Yama said: ‘The government are not doing enough for young people. I’m here with the YS to try to make a change. Youth want a clear future, an end to university fees and a job guarantee after you leave university. All the unions should go on strike to get rid of this Tory government.’

At the Trafalgar Square rally, NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: ‘We are facing privatisation, the destruction of our terms and conditions. The NUT will be saying no to these things and will be balloting for national strike action before the end of this summer term.

‘We stand with junior doctors and the nurses. We’ve been standing on picket lines and we will continue doing that until this dangerous contract is defeated.’