I am proud to tell people that I am an active member and shop steward for Unison, a union that has 1.3 million members across Britain. Nevertheless, like most organisations, Unison is far from perfect, which is why during last year’s internal leadership elections, I campaigned for the replacement of our not-so-useful General Secretary Dave Prentis. The candidate who I supported was Roger Bannister — a socialist with a track record of taking the fight to both the Tories and New Labour.
But in much the same way that the Parliamentary Labour Party is still dominated by New Labour remnants who actively oppose the socialist leadership provided by Jeremy Corbyn, Blairites still occupy many of the leading positions within Unison. This can change in time, and is just one reason why it is important for all union members to throw their support behind anti-austerity campaigners standing in all local and national union elections.
So, in the face of the Tories terrifying attacks upon the very future of our NHS, I was dismayed to discover the Unison Health Service Group Executive had voted down a motion by 16-9 which had called upon Unison to support the call from Health Campaigns Together for a national demonstration in defence of the NHS (the vote took place on October 25, 2016).
For those who don’t know, the recently formed Health Campaigns Together serves as a collaborative, national organisation that comprises representatives of different health care related organisations who are campaigning against cuts and closures. The point of this important umbrella group is to bring people together to fight in unity to oppose the destruction of the NHS — which is “now at breaking point” according to Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers.
The swelling number of local campaigns and hugely popular campaigns against ongoing attacks on the NHS pays testament to the urgent need to stand together in opposition to the Tories. In my own city, Leicester, thousands of people will be marching through our streets this Saturday — with the support of Unison and other trade unions and community groups — to say no to the proposed closure of Glenfield Heart Unit. While on the same day, thousands more will be protesting just over 50km away in Grantham “where approximately 10,000” are expected to attend.
I therefore fully support the ongoing efforts of Health Campaigns Together to unite all the growing number of disparate groups across the country that are building the resistance to continuing massive health care cuts our communities are facing across Britain.
To concretise that support, I will firstly be encouraging my local Unison branch to affiliate to Health Campaigns Together http://www.healthcampaignstogether.com/joinus.php, and then secondly, promoting the following motion at the earliest opportunity within my union branch.
I would of course encourage others to raise this motion within their own union branches to help ensure that Health Campaigns Together’s proposed national NHS demonstration (on March 4, 2017) is a huge success that bring millions of people together onto the streets to fight all NHS cuts.
Co-ordinated Fight Needed to Save the NHS
In an attempt to drive spending on the NHS back to pre-2000 spending levels (which would see one of the lowest spending levels in Europe) the Tory government’s latest plan has been to set up 44 footprint areas, in which commissioners and providers of services are expected to come together and draw up drastic cuts to balance the books of each local health economy by 2020.
These so-called Sustainability and Transformation Plans will take the gap in funding projected to develop by 2020 if there were no cuts and changes made and make this the target for savings. Many of these claimed gaps will run in to hundreds of millions and in some cases over a billion pounds.
This is despite the fact that there are literally billions held in reserves by Trusts and central government which at the end of the year simply go back into the treasury coffers.
44 leaders will be appointed by the CEO of NHS England (Simon Stevens – a former Blair advisor) who will have powers to ride roughshod over local people and health organisations wishes.
Whilst the full scale of the plans are yet to be revealed we already know there are plans to close or downsize many hospitals and A&E departments, a massive cut in hospital beds, restricting the rights of access to healthcare services and cuts in staffing.
There is clearly a mood to fight back against the attacks on the NHS. Already we have seen some mass local community campaigns develop in the likes of Huddersfield, Chorley and Grantham. There are plans to try and bring these campaigns together.
Given the threat to jobs and services the trade unions can and must play a key role in the defence of the NHS and their members’ jobs.
This branch calls on the union’s national executive and national health committees to draw up an immediate campaign to fight STPs, up to and including industrial action where necessary.
Given the national scale of this threat, this branch calls on the union to support the national demonstration called by Health Campaigns Together for March 4, 2017.