Thursday, 28 April 2011

Stop Con-Dems' assault on NHS: No health cuts, No privatisation

Health workers demonstrate at Whipps Cross hospital in East London, photo Paul Mattsson
Health workers demonstrate at Whipps Cross hospital in East London, photo Paul Mattsson
Hardly a day goes by without some report outlining the crisis facing the National Health Service. This crisis is a consequence of the drive toward privatisation and the most severe financial cuts in the NHS's history under the government's health 'reforms'.

Roger Davey, Unison, Health Service Group Executive (personal capacity)
Even NHS financial directors are predicting massive job losses, ward closures, and drastic service cuts as they struggle to make savage 'efficiency cuts' and prepare for the re-organisation of the NHS - ie privatisation. In fact, primary care trusts (PCTs) are already frantically cutting services in order to balance the books before they are due to be replaced by GP consortiums.

One of the ways that cuts are being made is the 'rationalisation of operations', a move that has been severely criticised by the Federation of Surgical Speciality Associations (FSSA), which represents about 15,000 surgeons.

According to FSSA an increasing number of patients are being denied surgery, including hips, spinal and even some cancer surgery.
In order to cut costs some PCTs are even restricting the number of patients who can have a hysterectomy, or even have babies with a planned caesarean section. Increasingly these surgical procedures are deemed to have a low or no clinical value, despite evidence to the contrary. It can safely be predicted that the definition of 'low value surgical procedures' will be expanded to cover much of what the NHS provides as the financial crisis deepens.

Of course this is all good news for the private sector.

One major health company, Spire Healthcare, recently conducted a survey of over 500 GPs which discovered that not only were cuts being made to the so-called 'non urgent' operations, but also waiting times were rising remorselessly for a whole series of treatments, including cardiology and oncology (cancer treatment). Increasingly, more patients will go private in order to receive care, creating demand and profit for the ruthless health care corporations.

Foundation trusts

Also, anticipating this development, foundation hospitals are planning to expand the provision of private health care now that the Tories have lifted the cap on it. This all adds up to the end of comprehensive NHS provision, and the acceleration of a two-tier service - one for the rich, and one for the rest of us.

Although the government is now saying it will 'pause and listen', in reality there is no slowing down in the implementation of their plan. While it may be slightly modified, the thrust and goal remain the same. That is, NHS finances will be transferred to GP-based consortiums, themselves likely to be absorbed by private companies.

These organisations, accountable only to shareholders, will purchase the cheapest possible care from the private sector, or foundation trusts, who themselves are in transition towards private health care companies. In effect it is a complete programme of privatisation which will have a devastating impact on all our lives.
The government has declared war on the NHS and in response the health unions should be mounting a massive campaign, including strike action, to defend the NHS and those who work in it. Socialist Party members will continue to demand a one-day public sector strike as part of an overall strategy to defeat this rotten coalition government.

We say:

  • Stop the cuts. For a fully funded, publicly owned NHS
  • End all privatisation through GP consortiums or other methods
  • Return privatised services to NHS control. Publicly fund and integrate them with the rest of the NHS
  • For united action to defend the NHS involving trade unions, anti-cuts campaigns and service users

Monday, 18 April 2011

Unison health conference - Delegates disappointed

Roger Davey, Unison health service group executive, personal capacity
This year's Unison health conference, held in Liverpool, was the first major union gathering since the magnificent demonstration on 26 March. It also came at a time when both the NHS and the pay and conditions of health workers are coming under ruthless attack from the coalition government.

These two huge factors should have made this an historical conference, one that established a clear strategy, programme, and commitment to defeat the government. Instead the conference illustrated the unwillingness of the union bureaucracy to build upon the momentum of the 26th and delegates returned to their branches disappointed.

The whole conference was tightly controlled, which ensured that any resolution that called for industrial action over pensions or privatisation was ruled out of order. It meant that the service group executive did not oppose any of the motions, none of which, of course, committed the union to do anything.

However, there is huge pressure building up from health workers for the union to take action over pensions, the pay freeze, and the destruction of the NHS. Delegate after delegate told of the reality of working in the NHS today as it is being prepared for privatisation.

They spoke movingly about the likely impact of marketisation, and the effect that the unprecedented financial cuts will have on patient care. They also repeatedly expressed anger that health workers and patients are expected to bail out this rotten capitalist system.

In fact when delegates, in the main Socialist Party members, called for a one-day public sector strike to defend the NHS and our living standards they received an enthusiastic response from the conference. Not even the bureaucracy could completely smother this overwhelming desire for action, emanating from the rank and file.

In one of the conference workshops, delegates were asked to decide how to react if management proposed cuts in order to save jobs and services. There was uproar when those participating in the workshop unanimously refused to accept any cuts either in the service or in pay and conditions.

The pressure and mood even forced general secretary Dave Prentis to talk of strike action over pensions. He made the startling claim that he had fought all his life for the downfall of capitalism! But the stark fact is that we've heard all this before, without national action following. Unison needs a new leadership to ensure that it becomes a fighting democratic union.

During the next period, tens of thousands of health workers will be demanding action from the union. This would be a step towards transforming Unison into a fighting organisation, one that will join with other unions in national strike action to defend living standards and to campaign against all cuts.

The Socialist Party made a significant impact on the conference, with a record number of delegates, and an inspiring fringe meeting addressed by Tony Mulhearn, one of the heroic Liverpool councillors who fought the Tories in the 1980s. Socialist paper sales were encouraging and over £300 was collected for the fighting fund.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Leeds Unison - fighting the cuts

Leeds Unison local government branch, jointly with the other council unions, has recently run a consultative ballot amongst the membership. This is over the employer's cuts packages.

A Leeds Unison steward
But there was no clear mandate from the ballot. This is partially because the wording of the recommendation from the Joint Trade Union Committee (JTUC) said that the offer was the best that could be achieved through negotiations but we cannot positively recommend this offer. This was a confusing and defeatist message.

After hearing concerns from branch activists, Unison sent out a much stronger statement to recommend a rejection. Yet the initial recommendation will have contributed to the low turnout.

The union leaders feel incapable of raising the confidence of activists and mobilising a genuine campaign to oppose all the cuts. Instead they have decided to jointly reject the council's proposals but also to continue negotiations "with the aim of avoiding compulsory redundancies".

It's clear that the unions want to engage with the employer with a 'softly softly' approach. But in doing so they are agreeing to 'smaller' cuts. We've already had consultation and we've been issued with another 90-day consultation period that ends on 3 May.

Socialist Party members believe that we need to move straight to a strike ballot against these severe cuts.

Labour Link won't save jobs and services

Like many trade union leaders across the country, the leadership of Unison in the east Midlands have tried to answer the question: "What next after the demo on 26 March?"

In a document recently circulated to branches, they correctly pointed out the need for a good turnout on the demo. Then they add: "The next big thing after 26 March is the council elections on 5 May and we need to give the Lib Dems and Tories a message through the ballot box too".

"Vote Labour", and not a word about further demos, never mind industrial action. It is now over six months since the TUC passed 'composite 10' at the TUC conference that called for a demo to be followed up with "support and coordinated campaigning and joint union industrial action, nationally and locally, in opposition to attacks on jobs, pensions, pay or public services".

Instead, what we have from Unison is an advert for the Labour Party and a promotion of Unison's 'Labour Link'.

But the Labour Link is not going to save jobs and services because the Labour Party opposition to the coalition government is based on a policy of 'cuts yes but not so fast'. Or as Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist puts it: "It's a difference of half a parliamentary term". The Con-Dems want these cuts during this parliamentary term, whilst Labour leader Ed Miliband wants to extend into the next parliamentary term.
The campaign to defeat the cuts needs a political answer as well as an industrial one but the unions' leadership have nothing to say about that.

In fact, when the civil service union PCS proposed at the last meeting of the TUC public services liaison committee that the unions should unite in action against the attacks on public sector pensions, Unison officials attacked the PCS for being 'unrealistic'.

They said there was no way they could expect their local government members, who contribute to their pension scheme, to take strike action in defence of civil servants who have a non-contributory scheme.
Unison members in local government face a massive increase in the amount they have to pay into the scheme and a reduction in their pension entitlements.

Civil servants, teachers and health workers were able to protect themselves against the last attacks on their pensions in 2005 by threatening coordinated strike action. Now the 2005 deal, which protected existing members of the scheme from any detriment, is in danger of being ripped up by the government.
Council workers and civil servants are both under attack. It makes sense, as PCS was proposing, for the unions to coordinate their strike ballots and strike action in defence of the pension schemes, as well as defence of their jobs and wages, which are also under attack.

It is high time that the Unison leadership was held to account for its unpreparedness to defend members facing government attacks. Their strategy is again: "Let's wait for a Labour government", something they mouthed throughout the last Tory government.

A political and an industrial strategy are vital. Socialist Party members in Unison call for the ending of the link with the Labour Party. We argue that the union should put itself foursquare behind the demand for a new mass workers' party based on the trade unions.

Teachers and council workers strike together in Tower Hamlets

The fight against the cuts in Tower Hamlets, East London, had a big boost on Wednesday 30 March when there was a joint strike of local teachers, who are members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in the East London Teachers Association (ELTA), and Tower Hamlets' council workers in Unison.
Pete Dickenson, Tower Hamlets Socialist Party
There were dozens of picket lines throughout the borough and a very well attended march of 1,500 from Weavers Fields to the East London Mosque where there was a rally.

photo Pete Dickenson

Speaking at the beginning of the march, Socialist Party member Martin Powell-Davies, who is on the executive committee of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), called for a 24-hour public sector general strike as an essential next step in the struggle after the magnificent demonstration on 26th March.
The march got a very positive response from the people of the East End as it wended its way through the borough. At the rally held at the end, messages of support were read out from many NUT branches round the country, from Queen Mary Uni UCU, and the FBU, amongst others.

Speaking at the rally, secretary of Tower Hamlets Unison John McLoughlin called for a public sector-wide general strike, which got a very good response from the audience. He also said that Unison would defend every job under threat, which was welcome since at an earlier meeting of the Tower Hamlets anti-cuts body, HOOPS, he had said that it would not be possible to defeat all the attacks, and the movement would have to pick the areas where it could win.

Keith Sonnet, deputy general secretary of Unison spoke next and called on the government to revisit its spending plans. For example the troops could be brought home from Afghanistan and Trident could be scrapped to save money. These aims should and can definitely be achieved, but unfortunately he gave no concrete indication of how.

photo Pete Dickenson

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service workers' union, received a very enthusiastic response when he spoke, possibly because he was the only speaker to explicitly say he was opposed to all cuts. The PCS is currently balloting 90,000 members for industrial action. He said that the way forward was for unions to strike together.

The PCS is already in discussion with the UCU and NUT on coordinated strike ballots, but all the public sector unions should be balloting. He received a standing ovation and prolonged chants of "general strike!".
This joint union action in Tower Hamlets shows a way forward for the rest of the movement that must be built on quickly, leading to a national 24-hour public sector general strike.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Socialist Party UNISON NEC Elections leaflet

Vote for a fighting democratic Unison leadership

Unison members, along with all other workers in both public and private sectors, are facing unprecedented attacks from the Con-Dem government, local councils and employers.

The elections for Unison's National Executive Council run from 11 April to 13 May, when members will have a chance to vote for candidates pledged to turn Unison into a fighting, democratic union.

Unison needs a strategy to defeat all cuts, whoever proposes them.

Labour councils who pass on Tory cuts by slashing jobs and services are part of the problem, not the answer.

Council workers being sacked by Labour councils will be horrified that Unison continues to pump £3 million a year into the Labour Party on their behalf.

Members in areas across the UK have shown a willingness to fight the attacks but each branch is being left to fight alone; there is no linking of the disputes.

The majority of Unison's current national executive have either no intention of leading a fightback or don't know how to develop a winnable strategy and organise. We need a big influx of new blood - activists with a proven track record of defending members and organising to win.

All local government members could have voted for: Glenn Kelly in the local government male seat. But Glenn is one of the four Socialist Party members being witch-hunted for challenging the Unison leadership.

He has been banned from standing in the NEC elections. This is another indication of the undemocratic methods of the leadership, despite the four winning an Employment Tribunal against the witchhunt. Now the union leadership will spend thousands of pounds taking the case to an Employment Appeals Tribunal.

Glenn's ban from standing will be challenged. But if Glenn is not on the ballot paper we call on Unison members to vote for Paul Couchman.

All health care members can vote for: Len Hockey health care service group (SG) male seat, John Malcolm health care SG general seat.

All members can vote for: April Ashley black members female seat, Hugo Pierre black members male seat, Kieran Grogan national young members seat.

The following candidates are standing for regional seats: Jean Thorpe East Midlands female seat, Hannah Walter Northern female seat, Roger Bannister North West male seat, Mike Forster Yorkshire and Humberside general seat, Angie Waller Yorkshire and Humberside female seat, Victoria Perrin Yorkshire and Humberside reserved seat.