Steve Sweeney, calls on health campaigners to seize the moment following last weeks breakthrough conference.
We need to build the broadest front possible if we’re to save Britain’s favourite public service, says Steve Sweeney.
LAst week saw the launch of the People’s Convention for the NHS, a national campaign with the aim of uniting campaign groups, trade unions, anti-austerity campaigners, pensioners’ groups and others, and the establishment of a fighting organisation.
The idea for the convention grew from the successful People’s March last summer, which made its way through 23 towns and cities before arriving to a packed Trafalgar Square.
As the march began, we started to think about the legacy. One of the march’s strengths was that it united broad sections of the community and we wanted to ensure that this was built on and the NHS remained a central issue.
Discussions took place in local campaign groups and other organisations and soon the convention, having made its way through democratic structures of various groups, won the support of key organisations including Keep Our NHS Public and the People’s Assembly Against Austerity.
A launch letter published earlier this week saw support from TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, GMB general secretary Paul Kenny, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, film director Ken Loach, actors Michael Sheen and Rufus Hound, People’s Assembly national secretary Sam Fairbairn and a range of clinicians, academics and NHS campaign groups — as well as this newspaper.
The convention is being organised around the “5 Pledges” as adopted by the People’s Vote for the NHS.
Repeal the Health and Social Care Act to halt and roll back the privatisation of the NHS. No to TTIP.
End the NHS funding freeze and increase spending to meet growing need for healthcare.
No more unsafe cuts and closures to save money.
Don’t let PFI costs kill off local services — renegotiate on the basis of fair value.
A fair deal and fair pay for NHS staff.
While some will argue that the demands do not go far enough, they are intended to be a minimum framework that can be used to bring together the broadest coalition in a united front to defend our NHS.
The People’s Convention for the NHS is not allied to any political party. Many of our supporters have different views on how best to defend our NHS and come from different political traditions and backgrounds.
We believe that any successful NHS campaign organisation should be able to contain those differences and work together with a common goal.
The convention is based on an inclusive approach, drawing support from across the political spectrum and beyond.
We will not cut across what others are doing, however the aim is to act as an umbrella organisation, uniting groups and offering solidarity and support.
It is hoped that developing from the People’s Convention for the NHS will be the establishment of local and regional conventions.
In Cambridgeshire, for example, we have been at the forefront of campaigning against privatisation and in defence of services, with Hinchingbrooke Hospital and the £800 million Older People’s Services tender being just two examples. There have been many groups working to defend our NHS including Hands Off Hinchingbrooke, Stop the NHS Sell-Off, Cambridge Keep Our NHS Public, Cambs Pensioners Association, Cambs TUC, Hunts TUC, local trade union branches, Cambridge People’s Assembly, Cambridge Communist Party, the National Health Action Party, the Green Party and the Labour Party. Uniting all in a Cambridgeshire NHS Convention would strengthen our ability to fight.
The NHS is one of our most treasured institutions. As Nigel Lawson famously stated, “It is the closest thing that the English have to a national religion.”
This has been seen countless times when local NHS facilities have been under threat.
From Lewisham to Hammersmith, from Stafford to Hinchingbrooke and beyond, thousands have taken to the streets, signed petitions and lobbied politicians in defence of threatened services.
Its establishment represented a real step forward for the working class and the health of the nation.
It did not just drop from the sky, however. It was won through struggle.
Harry Leslie Smith perfectly encapsulates what this meant in his book as he describes the loss of his sister in a workhouse as his family were too poor to afford healthcare.
We cannot return to this. The fight for the NHS is a class issue and is linked with the government’s austerity agenda.
The People’s Convention for the NHS will not be a talking shop, but is a serious attempt to build a national fighting campaign.
The NHS has been undermined and attacked since its inception. However, now its very existence is under threat.
What we do know is that when we organise and when we fight we can win.
The convention will have sessions on TTIP, PFI and NHS privatisation with speakers including Owen Jones, Sue Richards of Keep Our NHS Public, John Hilary of War on Want and TUC assistant general secretary Paul Nowak.
However the main voice will be from those who are attending from different groups and organisations, sharing successes and planning future actions and activities.
Defending our NHS needs a strategic approach. As the attacks on the NHS are national then so must be the response. The NHS will only be saved by the development of a mass movement, bringing together trade unions, campaign groups and others, and actions and activities need to be well thought out and planned to maximise impact and success.
Proposals for future action and activities will be discussed and debated at the convention.
Some proposals have already been made — the launch of a Seven Days to Save the NHS campaign which will be focusing on the forthcoming general election, organising an “NHS block” for the People’s Assembly demonstration on June 20 and holding a recall convention in October, possibly in Manchester in the wake of “Manchester Devo” and to enable further layers to participate.
For more information visit www.nhsconvention.org.uk