Reopen Ealing Maternity – demands 500 strong march

Workers and youth marching in Southall, furious that their vital maternity unit is being closed
Workers and youth marching in Southall, furious that their vital maternity unit is being closed

‘DEFEND Ealing Hospital! Don’t let it close!’ rang out through the streets of Southall on Wednesday afternoon, as up to 500 workers and youth marched to their local hospital on the day their Maternity Department was shut.

They demanded that the maternity department is immediately reopened so that women living in the local area can safely give birth to their children. Local residents, workers, students and youth had occupied the entrance of the maternity department, inside Ealing Hospital for the last week, 24 hours a day, to stop its closure.

However the hospital management, under the orders of the Tory government proceeded to close the vital department down. From 12 noon until 2pm, shops on Ealing Broadway had shut their doors and pulled down their shutters to show their total opposition to the closure of maternity. As the march made its way down Southall Broadway to Ealing Hospital, mums pushing babies born at Ealing hospital stopped what they were doing to join in.

Passers-by responded to calls from marchers to join in, swelling the size of the march. Shouts of ‘Defend Ealing Maternity! No more cuts!’ got louder and louder as the march approached the hospital. We will reopen Ealing Maternity!’ Tony McEvoy, secretary of the West London Council of Action told the mass rally outside the front of the hospital.

He said: ‘I want to welcome to this rally, all the marchers and hospital workers that took part in the march and our comrades who occupied the maternity to fight to keep it open. The occupation worked in shifts, so in reality there were scores of occupiers. The occupation did not halt the closure.

Only a mass strike, supported by industrial action throughout the area could have done that.

‘However, what the occupation proved for all to see was that there was massive support throughout the entire area for action to keep Ealing Maternity open. Workers throughout the area understood that NHS cuts, closures of maternity departments, closures of A&Es cost lives! They are, in fact, death sentences for whole communities.

‘We are calling a conference for Sunday July 19 in Southall to which we will invite all workers, especially from the west London hospitals and from trade unionists who depend on their NHS services to fight for policies to defend the NHS. We will also be inviting NHS trade unionists nationally and members of all unions to attend this vital conference to defend the NHS. All cuts, department closures and hospital closures must be fought by the trade unions.

‘They must be prepared for strike action and supporting strike action and occupations to stop these attacks on the NHS and defeat them. The trade union movement must be organised for general strike action to bring down this government. To those union leaders who complain about trade union activities being made illegal by the Tories but want to work with the kind of anti-union laws which the Tories are bringing in, to halt all strikes and make all strikes illegal – we say this is the mentality of slavery!’ McEvoy said to cheers from the crowd.

He added: ‘Nothing can be more legal than defending the NHS, all its services and saving workers’ lives. Also at our Southall conference on the 19th we will be discussing organising a march on parliament to spell out to the MPs of both the Tory and Labour parties that NHS cuts, closures and privatisations will not only not be accepted but they will be fought and defeated.

‘Once again, I thank you all for attending, but assure you that this struggle has only just begun. We must fight and make sure that maternity units like that at Ealing are re-opened and that we win the battle for the NHS which is after all the battle for the lives of workers, their families and their children. We are proud of our occupation. Now let’s continue and step up the fight to defend the NHS and defeat its enemies.’

Chairing the rally, Dave Wiltshire, secretary of the All Trade Union Alliance (ATUA) said: ‘The NHS is one of the biggest gains of the working class. We will not let this hospital shut and if that means taking over the hospital and running it ourselves then so be it! The trade union leaders have to stop using fine words about how the NHS is the jewel in the crown of Britain and take strike action and a general strike to defend the NHS. This struggle does not require fine words, the time for talk is over, we demand that these union leaders call action or they should be sacked and replaced by those who will.’

Salvinder Dhillon from the Indian Workers Association told the rally: ‘The battle for occupation and the battle to continue the struggle to defend Ealing Hospital has not ended. It has just started. This struggle is symbolic. It is a fight on a number of levels. Closing down the maternity department means that hospital staff will lose their jobs. Closing down the maternity and threatening to close down the children’s department and the accident and emergency department means that lives will be put into danger.

‘This is a struggle about defending workers’ jobs, defending lives and defending the NHS. We have to reopen the maternity department. If they try to close down Ealing Hospital, we will occupy the whole hospital!’

NUJ member and former councillor Zahida Noori said: ‘The staff at Ealing hospital speak multiple languages. We can not afford to lose our services here. We have to stand up for your rights. This is the time to take to the streets.’

Showing the rally her hospital wrist band she added: ‘I am a patient and I have postponed my treatment to join the march. We are proud of our community. This is a unique response from our community. The whole community is unhappy because their front line services are being closed down. The community has decided to keep fighting. The fight has just begun and it will not stop until we reach our destination which is to reopen the maternity and keep all the services at Ealing Hospital.’

BMA member Anna Athow addressed the rally, she said: ‘The occupation of Ealing Hospital and the march must be applauded. District General Hospitals were one of the biggest achievements of the NHS. They treat patients suffering from all conditions and have departments and staff that deal with every part of the human anatomy. District General Hospitals are made up of an extraordinary team of specialists, doctors, nurses and staff that work together to treat patients suffering from all manner of conditions.

‘And District General Hospitals are consultant led and most importantly they are free at the point of use, paid for through taxes. They are closing down departments and District General Hospitals across London and up and down the country. This is nothing short of social vandalism.

They want to implement the American system of health insurance where millions of people will be denied health care because they cannot afford it. That is why the struggle at Ealing Hospital that you have carried out has national and international significance. Long live the struggle to defend Ealing Hospital and long live the struggle to defend the NHS.’

Jonty Leff, speaking from the Workers Revolutionary Party, said: ‘The WRP brings its full support to the occupation to keep Ealing Maternity open and calls on everyone to attend the conference on Sunday July 19.

‘The Tories want to hand the NHS over to international monopolies through treaties like the TTIP. TTIP means that once privatised the NHS can not be re-nationalised. The vultures are circling around the NHS and threatening the lives of millions of working class and middle class families and their children.

‘We marched through Southall and we got tremendous support. Shops had shut in support of the march. On Friday, a pregnant lady was turned away from Ealing Maternity. She gave birth at home. Her husband delivered the baby!

‘Two days ago an extremely pregnant women, who was two days overdue, was also turned away from giving birth at Ealing. She was sent to Northwick Park Hospital. That takes three buses to get to! We went to the bus garage to win support. The bus workers said that they will have to become midwives themselves because bus drivers will be delivering babies on the buses!

‘If one baby or one mother dies in the next days, weeks or months, not only will the Tory government have blood on their hands but the trade union leaders as well! They have done nothing to stop the closure of this maternity department. It is an absolute scandal that the TUC leaders dropped the resolution calling for a “consideration of the practicalities of calling a general strike” after it was decided at two previous congresses to keep it on the agenda.

‘By this cowardly action they signalled to the Tories and the ruling class that they had not the slightest intention of challenging them and sit by and watch the carnage the Tories are creating. We must support the proposed conference in Southall to mobilise the trade unions to defend the NHS. We must build a new leadership for the working class in the trade unions and build up the WRP to mobilise workers to overthrow capitalism. This is the only way to avoid the spectre of a return of the 1930s, of mass poverty in the midst of plenty. Forward to a general strike to defend the NHS and forward to socialism.’

An announcement was then made to the rally that all the faith groups in the area pledged their fullest support to reopen the maternity department at Ealing Hospital. Earlier in the day while the march was assembling at the Miri Piri Gurdwara on Beresford Road, News Line spoke to angry local residents determined to save Ealing Hospital.

Malik Othman said: ‘I am marching today because Ealing Hospital must not close. Why are they closing our hospital down? They have closed our post office down, they closed the rubbish yard, now they want to close our hospital. The public need this hospital, it must stay open. I have been occupying every day and every night.

‘Where will the women of Southall go to have babies? Without the hospital many babies will die and many women will die. This is a life and death struggle. David Cameron must be kicked out, he is destroying everything. If they close down the hospital, they will demolish it!’

Raman Nijhawan from Southall WRP said: ‘The deadline for the closure of our maternity department at Ealing Hospital is 2pm today. That is why we are marching. We have already been occupying 24 hours a day. Our mission is to reopen the maternity. We need a UK-wide strike. The unions must back a general strike.’

Arvinder Sarai, recently graduating as a Pharmacy student said: ‘I will be working at Hillingdon Hospital. Health care is a basic human right. Ealing has the third highest birth rate in the UK. 3,000 babies are born in Southall every year. It is crazy that they are closing the maternity. We say don’t close our hospital!’

Preety Gil, joined in the march. She said: ‘I had both my children at Ealing maternity and the service is good. The local hospital is for local people. If a woman is in contractions, there are so many speed bumps on the road, you need to have a hospital with a maternity close to where you live. What if there are complications during child birth, then what are we going to do?’