UP TO 1,000 workers, trade unionists, local residents and youth electrified Enfield on Saturday afternoon, after hundreds joined the march through the town with loud chants of ‘Defend Chase Farm – Occupy Now!’ ‘The NHS is not for Sale – Defend Chase Farm!’ ‘Defend the NHS – Kick this government Out!’
Dozens of youths rushed to join the front of the march behind the lead banner from the North East London Council of Action, which stated: ‘Defend the NHS – By All Means Necessary!’
This was followed by the Chase Farm Maternity Unit banner, which stated ‘Chase Farm Hospital – Save our Maternity Unit’. Then came the Visteon banner: ‘Ex-Visteon Workers – Support the Fight to Keep Chase Farm Open’.
Brenda Brindel said: ‘I’m from Hatfield. Our hospital is closing and we are fighting to keep it open. If the QE2 closes the next hospital is in Stevenage, which is too far. Campaigners from Chase Farm have come up to support our struggle and we’re supporting theirs. No hospital should close. If we could get rid of this government, that would be fine.’
Len Reilly, a retired construction worker, said: ‘I live in Cuffley, which is near Chase Farm. I’m concerned about the closure of the A&E. That hour, the one it takes to get to a hospital miles further away, if you have a heart attack, is decisive. Chase Farm is the hospital for Enfield. As far as occupying to save it is concerned, if like at St Paul’s it’s a peaceful demonstration, and if it doesn’t disrupt the hospital, then an occupation is what would be necessary.’
David Flint, retired computer consultant, said: ‘I’m here as a member of the Green Party. We’re opposed to the cuts and we believe in localism. And having a hospital must be what it means to be a community in a civilised society.’
Pamela Fiorentino came on the march with her husband and daughter. She said: ‘We have come as a family. We live in Brimsdown, which is in Enfield. I’ve got three children, all born at Chase Farm.
When my son was 11 he had an accident, a head injury, and he was rushed to Chase Farm. The government lied. All round the election all the parties had an agenda for keeping Chase Farm, and now they’ve reversed it.’
Christina Fiorentino, an NUT member, said: ‘I teach at a primary school in Enfield. Children, residents, elderly people, everyone needs somewhere nearby they can go to when they need. Also, all the other hospitals are already bursting.’
John Burgess, Barnet Unison Branch Secretary, said: ‘I am also an Enfield resident. As far as occupying is concerned, if all else fails, what do people do? If the powers that be place private interests above public interest, then there will be casualties, there will be fatalities. We’re all in it together, but they’re not. In Barnet we’re facing mass outsourcing of services. And jobs. They want to privatise 70% of the workforce by 2013. It’s complete madness, as is the closure of Chase Farm.’
Ucatt member Mick Dooley said: ‘They’ve been trying to close this hospital for a long time. The philosophy of this government it to destroy the NHS and replace it with a private health care system. So it’s not just about saving money in a time of austerity; it’s another push in the privatisation of public services.
‘Activities like occupations ensure the maximum impact. I was involved in an occupation of Seagrove Road Hospital in Fulham in 1981. It was effective and highlighted Thatcher’s attack on public services.’
Ex-Visteon worker, Linda Bartle, said: ‘I’ve been supporting this struggle for the last three years. I live in the area and I also use the hospital. I believe that you can’t win it if you’re not in it. You’ve got to be in it to win it. We occupied Visteon and that’s the only reason we won. We would have lost our redundancy payment if we hadn’t occupied.’
Alex McRae, PCS North London Revenue Branch Secretary, said: ‘Successive governments have tried to take away our hospital services and we object, as you can see. We have to defeat closure plans of this coalition government.’
Bartosz Lewandowska, an 18-year-old student, said: ‘I live in Enfield and we can’t let Chase Farm be closed. There’s not enough room in Chase Farm as it is and yet they want to close it. My family can’t get to Edmonton. To occupy is radical, but it’s a very good idea. We have to take action to save our hospital.’
The march was followed by a rally of at least 300, in which speakers declared their determination to defend Chase Farm Hospital ‘By All Means Necessary’.
At the rally at the end of the march, North East London Council of Action Secretary Bill Rogers said: ‘We’ve been campaigning for five years, during which we’ve had monthly pickets of Chase Farm and some very big marches. Everyone goes along with our call for an occupation.
‘Chase Farm is at the centre of the struggle to defend the NHS – a test case. If they succeed here then rapidly they’ll move on to the rest of London and the rest of the country.
‘It’s great that Unite is supporting us and it’s great the London region of the BMA has voted to support us. Also the BMA has had to change their position over the Health and Social Care Bill to one of outright opposition. The only way to defend the NHS, and we must defend it, is to defend every aspect. I’m a railway worker and my understanding of a hospital is that it is able to treat every aspect of the human body. But this government is out to smash District General Hospitals in order to force people into the private sector.
‘This privatisation is coming in at every conceivable angle. It’s an attack on an enormous scale and we have to measure up. The NHS is the greatest achievement of the working class and we have to up our game in order to defend it. That’s why we’re going to organise our daily pickets of Chase Farm in the new year. We’ve got our next mass picket on Wednesday 21st December. These cuts are coming thick and fast and we’ve got to be ready to strike. We’ve got our next mass picket on Wednesday 21st December.’
The next speaker was Barry Brown, Unite National Officer for Health. He said: ‘I’ve been involved in the NHS as a trade union official since 1979. I bring greetings from our general secretary Len McCluskey. I thought today’s demonstration was very impressive.
‘The Health and Social Care Bill started life as a White Paper a few weeks after this government took office – I won’t say was elected. All responses to it were critical. That Bill, without a shadow of a doubt represents the biggest challenge to the NHS we’ve ever seen. The Bill is all about fragmenting the NHS, privatising the NHS, and handing over bits of it to the friends of the government.
‘What is happening at Chase Farm is the tip of a very big iceberg. It’s vital we oppose the Bill. All the NHS unions oppose it. That Bill should be stopped, not amended. And it’s very pleasing that the BMA has changed its position to one of opposition. At the moment, the Bill is in the House of Lords and is not expected back in the House of Commons until February. The Bill is not there to restructure the NHS it is there to dissolve the NHS.’
Sue, from the Maternity Unit at Chase Farm, said: ‘Chase Farm is very busy and everyone is working very hard. The A&E and the Maternity are really busy. When I was at the A&E earlier, it was absolutely packed out, with five ambulances outside. So how can they say these services are not needed?!’
Barry Cross from the Save the QE2 Hospital Campaign in Welwyn Garden City, said: ‘We are here in solidarity and are really pleased to be here. Today has been a brilliant turnout. We are in the same situation as you. We’ve been going for the same time as you. They are building a new hospital a quarter of the size of the current hospital, with no A&E. We are fighting them and we are not going to go away. Also, we are with you every inch of the way.’
Mario, from the Ex-Visteon Workers Campaign, said: ‘We need to fight. We’re getting bigger.
Occupying is important. If there are people in the hospital they can’t close it, so occupying is important. I believe we just have to fight. We have to stop the government.
‘I’ve had four hip replacements and four children, all at Chase Farm. And now, with grandchildren starting to come, it’s vital to keep it open.’
Anna Athow, BMA Council Member, said: ‘This government is moving in for the kill with the Health and Social Care Bill. Under it £80 billion of NHS funds would be handed over annually to the new commissioners, the NHS Commissioning Board and the Clinical Commissioning Groups.
‘Multi-national corporations will be deciding what services will be provided and where. It was this revelation that finally made my union, the BMA, change its policy and opt to completely oppose the Health Bill and campaign in opposition to it. They realised that GPs will not be doing the commissioning; big business will.
‘Traditional NHS GP practices will go. District General Hospitals and GP surgeries will go. National terms and conditions for staff will go. It’s the smashing up of the NHS. The RCN pointed out recently that 56,000 staff have already gone.
‘Andrew Lansley says that Chase Farm is the test case and it is the test case. The situation today is that we have no choice. We have a coalition government ramming the Health Bill through parliament. The people of Enfield have shown over and over again that they need Chase Farm to stay open as a fully functioning District General Hospital.
‘Residents, staff, unions and campaign groups have every right to defend Chase Farm. Everything else has been tried. The only means left to keep it open and provide the necessary care is to occupy it. The policy of occupation of Chase Farm is supported by my local division of the BMA. This week the London District Executive of the BMA voted support for this march and rally here today. I’m glad to see Unite here.
‘There has never been such an onslaught on the public sector. The day of industrial action over pensions on 30th November was a great success. We need similar indefinite action by the whole trade union movement to stop the hospital cuts and closures.’
Many members of the audience signed up to support the daily 9am-2pm picket of the hospital, which the North East London Council of Action has called from Monday 9th January.
• The Christmas picket of Chase Farm Hospital will take place on December 21, from 7am to 2pm. Everyone is invited to come along.