TRADE unionists, youth and local NHS campaigners voted unanimously at a meeting on Thursday night ‘to establish the North East London Council of Action’.
The job of the Council of Action is to stop hospital cuts and closures by organising occupations, strikes, demonstrations and all means necessary.
‘All over the country campaigns have sprung up to defend District General Hospitals and save the NHS in their local areas,’ main speaker Bill Rogers, the chairman of the Council of Action, told its first meeting attended by 100 people.
Rogers, a member of Chingford ASLEF train drivers’ union, added that the Council of Action covers an area where three hospitals are under threat – Chase Farm, Whipps Cross and North Middlesex.
‘Railworkers, like other local workers, want to see these hospitals defended,’ he continued.
He angrily condemned the betrayal of the workers at NHS Logistics by the leaders of UNISON – who called two one-day strikes but then accepted privatisation, once the service was handed to parcel firm DHL on October 1.
That was the main reason, he said, ‘why we wanted something different’.
He explained: ‘Last year, on the 21st and 26th of September, they actually took strike action to say: “No, we don’t accept privatisation.”
‘Blair and Brown got hammered, the Labour Party conference voted to put a stop to the policy of cuts and privatisation in the NHS.
‘It was the first national strike in the NHS for 18 years.
‘Come the 1st of October, it was privatised, lock, stock and barrel. It’s like a bombshell that’s gone through the union.’
Rogers said the plans to ‘reconfigure’ hospitals up and down the country were ‘merely to pave the way for the private sector to move in.’
Slamming Labour’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI), mass sackings and the imposition of a pay cut in real terms on nurses, he concluded: ‘We want to bring workers in across the board – a Council of Action would have to organise a real fight.
‘That will mean at a certain point occupying hospitals, occupying wards.
‘We need national action. The TUC must be forced to call a general strike to defend the NHS and not let these cuts proceed.
‘Once the hospital is closed, that’s it, it’s gone, it won’t come back. We’ve seen that with our industries.
‘A Council of Action is a fighting organisation, not a spineless organisation or an organisation where the leaders are spineless, like these leaders of UNISON.’
Surgeon Anna Athow, a member of the BMA, also addressed the meeting.
She said: ‘This government is privatising the NHS.
‘The PCTs (Primary Care Trusts) are being told they have to fan out their funding to a “plurality of providers’’, to diversify into the private sector.’
She warned: ‘A quarter of the District General Hospitals in England face closure.’
That would mean depriving the population of England of high-quality, consultant-led care ‘on a massive scale’.
She continued: ‘This Blair-Brown government have made their minds up.
‘We have to physically stop the closure of these hospitals.
‘We will if necessary have to mount a daily picket of the hospital and say it will not close, and it does have to be escalated up to a national level and we have to get rid of this government.
‘We have to replace it with a workers government and socialism.’
Speaking in the discussion, Hilary Ross said she had worked at Whipps Cross Hospital for 30 years as a cleaner.
‘I was there about five years when they privatised us.
‘We’ve had many cleaning companies taking us over and they didn’t have a clue about what they were doing.
‘Before, there wasn’t anything to do with MRSA. It’s not on.’
Nash Campbell, from the Young Socialists, said: ‘We are all here tonight to save the hospitals. We all rely on the NHS, whether we are young or old.
‘The trade union leaders refuse to call action. That’s why we support a Council of Action.’
Rosita Fearon-Reeves, a Waltham Forest resident, said: ‘I have lived here a long time and worked for the NHS and part of my training was at Whipps Cross Hospital and I worked there for many years.
‘I have collected 300 signatures and submitted them to the Houses of Parliament. I’ve marched for miles. I’ve put my two pence in and they have not listened.
‘I’ve worked as a nurse and a midwife.
‘I love people and I want to see them treated, I don’t want to see people in pain and I would like to see the government stopped in their tracks.’
Dr Nicholas Pillai, a GP, said: ‘I believe in the NHS.
‘The NHS was marvellous for immediate, necessary treatment, with its emergency service.
‘With the closure of these hospitals we are going to lose this delivery of urgent care to most of the population.
‘Whoever understands what’s happening should stand together and say no closures of any hospitals.’
Ubai Iqbal said: ‘I’ve only just found out that Whipps Cross is going to be closing down and I’m not happy at all. If it closes down, I think my family would fall apart.
‘I love that hospital. If there’s anything we can do to help the NHS, then I’m there.’
Charlotte Monro, from the Save Whipps Cross Hospital Campaign and chair of Whipps Cross UNISON, said: ‘We have to fight. Please come to our demonstration on February 3 and give out our leaflets.’
CWU postal workers’ union member Billy Colvill said if a hospital is threatened with closure, ‘We should occupy it and turn round and say: “No’’. Ordinary people will support it.’
Terry Collins, Hackney Council TGWU, said: ‘We want you to join these committees and plan action.
‘Your job is to go out and inform people what’s going to happen to their services, or you’re going to have no hospital.’
The meeting voted unanimously for the resolution before it, which said: ‘This meeting decides to establish the North East London Council of Action which will consist of representatives from local trade union branches, local community and youth organisations, political parties and concerned members of the community.
‘Its purpose is to defend the NHS and stop all cuts, closures and redundancies in the local hospitals through occupations, demonstrations, strikes and all means necessary.
‘We give our fullest support to the demonstrations called on Saturday February 3 outside Whipps Cross and March 3 outside Chase Farm Hospital and will organise further action at the next meeting of the Council of Action on Tuesday 13 February 2007.’