‘THIS Conference must give a lead in the struggle to defend the NHS and stop it being destroyed by this Tory government… Trade union organised occupations and a general strike is the only way to save our NHS and save our services, by bringing down the Tories and bringing in a workers government and socialism.’
This was the message of the Main Resolution which was voted for unanimously by more than 150 health workers, other workers, trade unionists, students and youth who attended the All Trades Unions Alliance (ATUA) National Conference at Friends Meeting House in Euston on Saturday.
Moving the resolution, Dave Wiltshire, ATUA National Secretary, said: ‘This resolution is something to be fought for. When we talk about the NHS and Welfare State we must remember that these were things that the working class had to fight for. The working class returned from the Second World War, armed, and determined not to go back to the starvation of the 20s and 30s, and the ruling class, which was being bailed out by the US, retreated. They made concessions, but today every one of those concessions is being taken back.
‘Britain is bankrupt, it owes £1.8 trillion, extreme poverty is increasing, they’ve been steadily privatising the NHS since the Blair government, now they are going to bankrupt the NHS and the wholesale privatisation of the NHS is moving from the background right to the forefront.
‘They are going to close these A&Es and all the marches in the world won’t stop it, marches are all very well, but what is in front of us is taking action. Don’t take this as a paper resolution, the NHS won’t be defended by nice Tories, nor the Labour Party, nor this TUC, they’ve done nothing. When local people organised in a council of action occupied Chase Farm Hospital the trade union leaders ran a mile, it’s not for nothing they’ve been called the main prop of the capitalist system.
‘They haven’t even done anything about the anti-trade union laws. Fifty Tory MPs said a few weeks ago the anti-union laws are ineffective. They are preparing to ban strikes in the public sector. It’s reached a stage now that you can’t win with these leaders. The only intervention the TUC has made was to convene a meeting between Southern Rail management and Aslef and stab the railway workers in the back in a deliberate sell-out.
‘The vote against the EU was a kick in the teeth to the capitalist class, but also the TUC leadership. We’re talking about a fight and that’s what this main resolution is all about. When a hospital department is threatened with closure it must be occupied. The junior doctors were cruelly sold out by the TUC, but the old days when they could split us up and isolate us are over.
‘We have to occupy places threatened with closure, we have to lead the fight to go all the way, this system can’t support a decent life, the banks are going, the crash is going to pose before the working class standing up and fighting for a socialist future.
‘This system has to go and be superseded, nationalise the banks, build a leadership prepared to go all the way. Organise the occupation of hospitals and factories, organise a general strike to bring down the government. The power resides in the working class, in hospitals it’s with the nurses and the doctors and the other NHS workers. The TUC is terrified of a general strike because it poses the question of power. We have to go from a resolution to resolute action, workers respond to strong leadership. Occupy, take on the leadership, organise, build.’
First speaker in the discussion was Charles Harrity, GMB Senior Organiser Surrey, Sussex & Kent, who explained how 14 months ago seven CCGs (clinical commissioning groups) in his area came together to privatise patient transport and hand it over to privateer Coperforma to run in a multi-million pound contract.
‘The unions, led by the GMB, warned against it, but they ignored us. Their way of working was a disaster from day one. Only 40% of journeys were carried out, patients kept missing appointments, including cancer patients. This went on from 1st April to 28th June, they didn’t even make three months, to say it was chaotic is underplaying it. Staff told us all sorts of horror stories, 80 staff were handed over and the service was being pulled apart.
‘Throughout the whole campaign our focus was on the CCGs, they were the authors of this particular tragedy. The thing that tipped it in our favour was that we turned up with staff and took over the practices of the GPs who were on the CCGs, and the patients supported us. The CCGs finally transferred patient transport to South Central Ambulance Service. We brought it back into the public sector,’ Harrity declared to warm applause.’
Dr David Moses said: ‘I’m an NHS doctor and everybody is important here. We have to defend the NHS and kick the Tories out because they want to privatise. Everyone has the right to education and a proper health service.’
Health worker Moses Ogenyi said: ‘I work with G4S at St George’s Hospital in Tooting as a patient transport driver. My reason for doing the job is that I care for patients, but when I’ve spoken out I’ve been verbally abused, victimised and bullied. I joined the union, Unison, but they’ve done nothing about it. My Unison representative told me to go and look for another job. I’ve never had any complaints from patients or from colleagues. I believe it’s because I complained that the ambulances are not in good condition, that’s why I’m being victimised.’
Jonty Leff, News Line Deputy Editor, said: ‘The News Line fights every day for the NHS. We need a general strike to defend it, occupations organised by the trade unions to prevent all closures. During the junior doctors strike the trade unions didn’t lift a finger to support them, leaving them to fight on their own. What the TUC did in the railway workers’ fight to keep the guards on the trains was to actively collaborate with the bosses. There must be an immediate recall of the TUC and Frances O’Grady must be kicked out.
‘The Tories have declared war on the NHS, doctors, nurses, midwives and all NHS staff. The NHS is not ours to give up, it has to be preserved for future generations. Go back to the hospitals in your areas, organise – the NHS unites the entire country. It’s a NATIONAL health service and it requires national action to defend it. Join and build the Workers Revolutionary Party.’
Bill Rogers, Chair of Chingford Aslef Branch and Secretary of the North East London Council of Action, said: ‘The strikes on Southern Rail started last year and when they kicked off the leader of the RMT, Mick Cash, said the management was not interested in negotiating, just waging war on the unions.
‘When it comes to drivers on the railways most of us used to be guards and we know how important guards are. People do get dragged along platforms, drivers can’t deal with emergencies, the guards’ job in an emergency is crucial. O’Grady and the TUC leaders should be kicked out, and these leaders in my union should also be kicked out.
‘I’ve really come to talk about these STPs (Sustainability and Transformation Plans) which are being brought in to close down NHS departments all over the country. When they announced the closures of maternity, paediatrics and A&E at Chase Farm Hospital we had always said we’d occupy and we did occupy. But after four hours of occupation the atmosphere changed. The Secretary of State said kick them out and the police moved in. The trade unions have to occupy all closure threatened departments. That’s the way to stop them closing and keep them running.’
RMT member John Howell said: ‘I work at Clapham and this so-called deal is no deal. It takes no account of safety. There’s a good chance it will be overturned and we hope it is. They say that it’s only in exceptional circumstances you won’t have a second member of staff on the train. It’s laughable, it happens all the time. They want one driver trains and then driverless. Southern don’t maintain the trains. It’s a pack of lies you hear every day. You talk about the rotten Aslef leaders, well our RMT leaders are not great. It comes down to leadership, these leaders must be kicked out.’
Anna Athow, Deputy Chair London BMA said: ‘There have been 37,000 hospital beds closed in the last decade. The 44 STPs intend to close a further 24 A&Es. They intend to transform the NHS into a US-style system, that’s what the STPs are for. Simon Stevens’ Five Year Forward View is to completely privatise the NHS by 2020. All STP plans have the same content. The Tory government is completely committed to closing down the NHS.’
Surinder Grewal, from the West London Council of Action, said: ‘We have been campaigning at Ealing Hospital, we occupied maternity for a week before it closed. 3,000 babies were born there each year, but now it’s closed. Then they closed the Charlie Chaplin children’s ward and now they plan to close A&E. We tried to get the union leaders to support us, but they just ran away. It’s happening all over the UK. The unions must start fighting.’
Lesley Mahmood, Save Liverpool Women’s Hospital, said: ‘This hospital sees 50,000 patients every year, 8,500 babies are born there every year, but now it’s under threat from the STP plan. We started campaigning because there was not a peep out of the trade unions. We went on a charity run and to music festivals and organised petitions. The trade union reps within the hospital are going along with management plans. We know that if the site closes it will be a massacre of the innocents. We are talking about a 21-year-old hospital with beautiful grounds they are planning to close. We aim to organise a ring of steel.’
Dr James Rowson said: ‘I’m one of the doctors at Norfolk and Norwich Hospitals which you have seen on the picket lines. I’m a BMA Rep and Eastern Region BMA Chair. Workers in the NHS know that things are wrong and we believe in the NHS. But our NHS is being crippled by chronic underfunding. We need to empower our members.’
Claire Dixon, Unison Branch Secretary Whittington Hospital, said: ‘The union leaders who sell and promote the STPs are complicit. Now is the time to organise in our union branches to stop these leaders getting away with it. We have to mobilise our members. STPs are going to launch a sea of privatisation.’
Salwinder Dhillon, Indian Workers Association, said: ‘It is high time the trade unions occupied hospitals and called a general strike. We participated in the occupation of maternity at Ealing Hospital. What was lacking was action from the trade union leadership.’
Trevor Watkins, West London Council of Action, said: ‘STP means smash the people. They say they are going to cut 600 beds from Ealing and Charing Cross Hospitals. Now GPs in Bournemouth are offering private appointments. Closing hospitals kills. A woman took her child to Chase Farm Hospital only to find it closed and the child died. Nye Bevan was right when he said the Tories are lower than vermin.’
Unite member and electrician, Chris Watson said: ‘I went to two hospitals to speak to the union reps to invite them to this conference and left my contact details, but the silence was deafening. They’ve carved the NHS up into 44 footprints, to use their jargon. In 2012 in Hyde Park Len McCluskey got up and said “who’s for a general strike?” and everyone cheered. He’s never mentioned it since.’
Frank Sweeney, General Secretary of the Workers Revolutionary Party, said: ‘This conference has hit the nail on the head. It has highlighted the crisis of leadership in the working class. Now not only are these trade union leaders doing nothing to stop the attacks on the working class, but they are actually aiding and abetting them.
‘Working class people in Britain see their NHS as a right. The working class in Britain has a proud history of struggle. The present working class is just as tenacious as its forefathers. And they will never allow the NHS to be taken away.
‘There is going to be a general strike in this country. What this conference has to answer is whether there will be a leadership to carry it forward to victory. If you are serious about defending the NHS you should join our party, build that leadership.’