Summary: Health workers and supporters march for free health care for all, and workers’ rights — Editors
Oxford, England – On 9 June I joined in a march through the city to “Save our National Health Service”. About two hundred people gathered for this demonstration, called by two unions, Unison and Unite, and supported by a spectrum of political parties and campaigns, including the local Labour Party, the Green Party and the Socialist Health Association.
For seventy years, since its foundation in 1948, the National Health Service (NHS) has been caring for the health needs of the British people, mostly free of charge at the point of treatment and paid for by taxation. It is part of our lives from the moment we are delivered by an NHS midwife. Pre-NHS times are remembered in period drama as the bad old days.
Speakers described the many ways this cherished public service is under tremendous pressure: shortages of resources and staff, long hours and low pay (with annual increases held down below inflation by government policy) and a burden of debt to private corporations and financial institutions, incurred through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).
In the Oxford area, the problem of low pay is aggravated by the high local cost of living, especially housing costs. The unions are calling for local salaries to be topped up by “Oxfordshire weighting”.
Slogans chanted on the march included “They say cutback – we say fightback” and “Say it loud, say it clear, migrant workers welcome here!”
Beyond the slogans (even good ones), NHS staff and users are thinking seriously about how healthcare should be organised, by staff, patients and communities, unburdened by the capitalist profit imperative.
A collection was taken for NHS workers in Wigan, Lancashire, who are taking strike action against plans to outsource their jobs.