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The Battle for the Future Direction of the NHS:
Campaign to Save South Tyneside Hospital Advances its Work
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The furore over the suspension of Labour Party members and supporters by its NEC, and hence their exclusion from being able to vote in the ongoing Labour Party leadership election, has revealed deep-seated differences over what kind of party is necessary in a modern democracy.
On the face of it, glaring injustices are being reported, where life-long Labour Party members are being suspended for allegedly not sharing the values which the Labour Party stands for. Twitter feeds are being trawled to discover if the member had ever expressed support for the policies of any other party, such as the Green Party. Even the general secretary of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), Ronnie Draper, who has been a Labour Party member for over 40 years, was informed he had been suspended without explanation.
While "defectors" from the Conservative Party and Lib Dems are welcomed, those who have expressed criticism of the Westminster consensus on war and austerity are viewed with antagonism. Sometimes this is expressed as trying to take the Labour Party back to the Blairite days.
Corbyn himself has spoken of a new type of politics, and that this new type of politics is expressed as the Labour Party representing a social movement. Clearly at the very least there are different kinds of definitions of a political party at work. What is the background to this?
People's experience has been that more than ever the political system and institutions have been used to marginalise the electorate, not only depriving them of political power but of any access to a political process which would permit them to have a say in the decisions made in their name. Their experience has been that, far from being the mass parties which arose in opposition to the elite or caucus-party system of the 18th and 19th centuries, representing the demand of the masses of the people for empowerment, the Westminster parties had been transformed into gate-keepers of political power, managers of the affairs of state, depriving the polity of power. A political cartel of major political parties developed: parties judged according to their ability to manage the existing social system and the status quo with a neo-liberal agenda.
The Labour Party itself moved from a party formed in response to the demand that the organised working class should have a party of its own - a party to serve the interests of the working class and to represent its voice in Parliament - to what has been called a "catch-all party". By the 1980s, the role of the main parties as the instruments of state management, requiring consensus over fundamentals and colluding to maintain their position of power, was so firmly entrenched that for the Labour Party not to follow the new agenda and reach a new consensus with the Conservatives would have ended its role as an established major party. Its very role as the Official Opposition had become defined in these terms. The party membership had increasingly taken second place to this role.
Thus the issue cannot be simply that everything disastrous in society is the result of policies of a Conservative government. To demand that the governments must change their policies is the old way of doing things. Work for the creation of a new system through which people can exercise control over their lives must be developed.
The starting point, in this respect, is the aim, the goal of creating new arrangements which favour the people's interests. The monopolies have sought to impose their dictate as a matter of right. The Conservatives in government have pursued an agenda which favours this imposition and goes against public right, and this has involved the destruction of public and national authorities which stand in the way of privatisation and the rule of these monopolies. New Labour, as a fellow cartel party of the Conservatives, has competed and colluded in this agenda. Blairism became a by-word for warmongering and paying the rich. But the subsequent leaders spread illusions that not going so far or so fast would ameliorate the situation, while still upholding in practice that austerity was the only way.
The reason for the success of Jeremy Corbyn has been that he was part of and came out of the workers' and people's movements, the movements against austerity and warmongering, and for the rights of workers, the right to organise.
To support these stands was deemed traitorous to Labour as a cartel party. Thus the "purge" now of Labour Party members is not so much on whether there is support for Labour Party "values" or not, but as to what type of party it must be. To those that are entrenched in the cartel party system, the Westminster consensus, those that uphold the "reality" of politics rather than "utopian fantasies", any appeal to a mass base, to a social movement, to the politicisation of the people, to participation in political affairs, is deemed beyond the pale, a threat to the status quo, to the "Westminster bubble".
Meanwhile, in the actual movements for a change in the direction of society and the economy, the people must fight for unity behind the aims of the movement, whether it be to safeguard the future of the NHS, to defend the right to organise, to strengthen the movement against warmongering, aggression, intervention and war governments.
Within this, the question must be raised as to what kind of party can serve the needs of the people, the aims of the workers' and people's movements. Should it be a mass workers' party, should the communists not unite to forge a party which upholds the short- and long-term interests of the working class, should the question of a mass communist party not be raised, should the social movements of the people not bring a party of labour to power? Maybe the prevailing view is that these questions have been settled, but if so they were not settled once and for all.
A form of democracy is needed which is consistent with the interests of the working class and peoples to govern themselves and exercise control over their lives. The fact is that the ruling elite will not countenance the spectre of democratic renewal, which is of great urgency. Democratic renewal raises the issue of the empowerment of the working class and people. The very idea has caused a rift in the Labour Party and explains the attempted coups by any means against Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. It is not really a question of the "left" against the "right". It is more a question of occupying the space for change, and thoroughly discussing the question of what kind of party. Certainly it appears that the issue has yet to be settled in the Labour Party itself. It may yet be ascertained that the policies formulated by Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader will not be attainable with a party of the old type and without democratic renewal. Arrangements are required which are in step with the times.
Part One: The New Colonialism
A recently published War on Want report entitled "The New Colonialism" highlights the extent of British monopoly control of Africa's major resources. According to the report 101 monopolies listed on the London Stock Exchange, most of them British, control more than $1.5 trillion worth of oil, gas, gold, platinum and diamonds in 37 African countries. The report concludes that successive British governments have used their "power and influence to ensure that British mining companies have access to Africa's raw materials. This was the case during the colonial period and is still the case today." This has been facilitated both through government trade and investment policies and the close relationship that exists between the British state and the monopolies. In many cases government officials and ministers leave office in order to join the boards of the major monopolies. Nearly a quarter of the monopolies are based in British tax havens in the Channel Islands or the Caribbean.
The report shows that many of these monopolies dominate entire African economies, for example Shell dominates Nigeria's oil industry, Genel Energy is attempting to dominate the oil industry in Somaliland, Acacia Mining, a British segment of the Canadian monopoly Barrick Gold, which dominates the gold industry in Tanzania, Anglo-American and Petra Diamonds control much of Africa's diamond industry in South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania and Botswana. Anglo-American, Glencore and Sable Mining controls Africa coal extraction. African economies that are still largely reliant on the export of one or a few major raw materials, as Zambia is dependent on copper, are therefore dominated by British monopolies. The report highlights the fact that a monopoly such as Glencore, one of the world's largest mining companies with interests in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritania, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia, has been able to amass revenue that is ten times the total GDP of Zambia.
The report points out that African governments still have little control over these resources or the monopolies that control them. These monopolies are not bound to purchase goods from the countries they exploit nor employ local workers. In many cases they avoid or evade taxation. In short Africa's resources are being plundered. So called "aid" is used as a subsidy for these monopolies but recent research shows that even the total of aid and other forms of direct investment in Africa is some $60 million less than profits extracted from the continent by the big monopolies.
In November 2013 for example, the British government announced a new mechanism for enabling access by British companies to African raw materials, to be facilitated by British aid. The so-called High Level Prosperity Partnerships (HLPP) involve the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development (DFID) supporting a range of major British oil and mining monopolies to find new areas for investment. Its focus is Angola, Côte d'Ivoire , Ghana, Mozambique and Tanzania. The report concludes that "there is little doubt that the major prize is access to oil and gas resources at a time when many African countries have recently made new finds and are giving massive contracts to foreign companies". Four of the five HLPP countries, Angola, Ghana, Mozambique and Tanzania, are developing new oil or gas fields. In Tanzania the government have been assisting the BG Group, which has $1 billion worth of investment in the country, especially in the gas sector, and was recently acquired by Shell. A former board member of the BG Group is also one of DFID's two Non-Executive Directors. Other former BG Group board members include: Baroness Sarah Hogg, former head of the Prime Minister's Policy Unit under John Major; Sir David Manning, a former Ambassador to Israel and the US; Sir John Grant, a former Foreign Office official and the UK's permanent representative to the European Union during 2003-7 who was BG Group's Executive Vice-President.
The War on Want report highlights the fact that in the context of the new scramble for Africa's resources British monopolies and the British government remain major players and therefore major enemies of the African people. The facts show that there can be no illusions about enslaving "aid" nor about the so-called DFID which is rather the opposite, a mechanism for under-development, dependency and exploitation in Africa and elsewhere, in the service of the big monopolies and financial institutions. The times cry out for an end to such intervention in Africa and for an end to monopoly right. It is therefore the responsibility of all who recognise this necessity to find the means to bring this about.
The downgrading of South Tyneside Hospital was announced as part of an "alliance" between South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust (STFT) and City Hospitals Sunderland (CHS). If this downgrading were to go ahead, it would result in the loss of acute services for South Tyneside and also for Sunderland whose access to acute services would also be under pressure by the closure of those services in South Tyneside.
The "alliance" plans to move all acute services from South Tyneside to Sunderland, which would make South Tyneside Hospital A&E unsustainable. The immediate threat is the loss of acute stroke services and maternity in South Tyneside. The NHS England plan is to reduce more than 10 A&Es in the north east of England down to four or five. Its result would be to leave South Tyneside with essentially a rehabilitation hospital, while anyone needing acute health care would have to travel to Sunderland or Newcastle.
These downgrading plans have a familiar ring to them. The fight to save hospitals which serve the needs of local people has up and down the country begun with such cuts, often under the spurious grounds of financial difficulties or sustainability, or even the pursuit of excellence in specialist hospitals. The rate at which such plans are being pushed through has escalated with NHS England's Five Year Forward View, and its associated division of England into 44 STP (Sustainability and Transformation Plan) "footprints".
The downgrading of South Tyneside Hospital is consistent with the direction in which the government is taking the NHS. It is deliberately reducing NHS funding both for front-line health services and other human resource needs. This process is wrecking the NHS by fragmenting it into purchasers and providers, closing acute hospitals and A&E departments. It is facilitating the takeover of the most profitable services by private health companies. This continued direction is reflected in the alliance between STFT and CHS with the aim of closing acute services at South Tyneside Hospital.
Aims and Activities of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign
The SSTHC is acting to unite people in action in the campaign irrespective of political opinion. Its stand is to safeguard the future of South Tyneside Hospital and its acute and emergency services. The Campaign upholds that access to health care is a right of all in a modern society, and it demands that this right must be guaranteed.
Public Meeting Calls to Build the Campaign so that Acute and Emergency Services Remain at South Tyneside Hospital
MP Emma Lewell-Buck organised a meeting in South Shields on August 15 with the support of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign and Unison's Public Service Alliance. Nearly 200 people including clinicians, staff from the hospital, people from South Tyneside and some residents of Sunderland attended the meeting in the Brinkburn Community Centre in South Shields, which was characterised by the enthusiastic support to build the campaign so that acute and emergency services remain at South Tyneside Hospital.
Opening the meeting Emma Lewell-Buck said, "We all know that the government is decimating our NHS. We all know about Jeremy Hunt's attack on the work force, the junior doctors and the nurses, but what many people don't know is about the immense pressures that they are putting on local hospitals right up and down the country." She said, "They are reducing the workforce, increasing the role of the private sector and starving the NHS of the funding forcing areas to come up with plans of how they can re-configure their hospitals and their local health services. One part of that plan is the reduction in the north east of accident and emergency provision." She continued, "Clinical reviews have commenced on a number of clinical services based at our hospital which from downgrading, or delivered from elsewhere, will reduce the need for us to have an accident and Emergency in the current form."
The MP reported that she had spoken to staff, clinicians, and trade unions and that "all the signs were pointing to a downgrading of services for South Tyneside, inclusive of A&E provision to Sunderland". She said that Sunderland are expanding these services "against a far more challenging financial situation than our hospital is in". Emma pointed out that these moves "do not appear to be based on any evidence or strategic planning to meet the health needs of our borough. They are being rushed through at pace with scant regards for the health needs of our local population. There is a blatant lack of transparency and accountability. All minutes since the alliance and in spite of repeated requests have not been made available to the public and I have been given no clear blueprint of what it is that this hospital is actually trying to achieve." She concluded that she knew that the people of South Tyneside "are not going to put up with this. Tonight is about sharing information and planning our next steps together."
Unison area organiser and the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign organiser Gemma Taylor spoke, outlining the origins of the SSTHC coming out of the concern of local people and the Public Service Alliance of local trade unions. She said, "What gave rise to our concerns was that this alliance was formed without any public consultation and the announcement that the South Tyneside Foundation Trust would deliver more of the rehabilitation, screening and diagnostics and that City Hospitals Sunderland would deliver more of the acute and emergency services. We all know that if a hospital does not have acute services, it will make the A&E unviable." She said that the campaign is working very closely with the two local MPs to protect acute and emergency services. Gemma concluded by asking the floor to stand united with the campaign and to get involved.
Roger Nettleship, Chair of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign, also spoke of how the campaign had grown from the fight to save Jarrow Walk-In Centre. Roger said that the government is orchestrating the downgrading of the South Tyneside Hospital through its Five Year Forward View. He said, "What struck us about this is that it is a vicious austerity campaign to destroy as much as possible of the publicly provided and publicly funded NHS in five years and replace it with a privately provided and funded health system using the US model of private health care. We have to block this move and dismantle many of the mechanisms put in place by this and previous governments such as the market in health between providers and commissioners and the way the NHS is deliberately underfunded."
Roger Nettleship said that "one vital question that is very important to ask is are there any public authorities nationally, or locally, accountable to the people that are standing up for the NHS. Instead what we have is this question being reduced to competing Trusts and Chief Executives in the context of Trusts being deliberately under resourced in funds and in medical staff where the government can force mergers, partnerships with the private sector and close and wreck our acute hospitals and emergency services."
Roger said that this is no way to run a health service. "We formed the campaign to become a social movement in South Tyneside to defend our health service and become that public authority." He said this was "bringing people together regardless of political opinion, party or organisation, or none, as well as our elected representatives". Roger called on people to join the Campaign and shape it together. He said, "We know not everyone can come to a two-weekly meeting, but it is important to act in an organised way and send a delegate from your group or organisations then everyone come to those activities they can get to. We know people in the hospital are taking a stand. Even many of the clinicians and governors are opposing this direction for our NHS and for our hospital." He pointed out, "Access to health care is a right of all in a modern society and we demand that it must be guaranteed and no hospital should be placed in deficit." Roger Nettleship concluded by saying, "Let us plan this campaign even better. So, they haven't seen anything yet. Let's plan for the biggest demonstration that South Tyneside has ever seen and get everyone out!"
During the hour and half discussion that followed with a roving mike, speaker after speak gave dozens of contributions to the discussion on the vital importance of the campaign to save the acute and emergency services at the hospitals as well as speakers who spoke on how this would affect services in Sunderland and the need for a campaign there. South Tyneside District Hospital consultant surgeon Kamil Wynne told the meeting that most clinicians at the hospital oppose any possible moving of services to the Royal. He said, "The majority of us do not think that this has been thought out properly."
The meeting concluded with Emma Lewell-Buck thanking everybody for coming along and thanking all of the people who made such powerful contributions. She said this was the start of the campaign. Many unions and parties were on board and the message which is loud and clear is: "Hands off our hospital and don't ever underestimate the people in South Tyneside!"
(Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign)
Following the Footprints: Challenging the STPs
A National Conference
Saturday 17 September
11-4pm Carrs Lane Conference Centre
Speakers are being finalised, with a small panel of trade
union and campaign speakers - leaving lots of time to meet other delegates, and
exchange information and ideas.
Registration £7.50/£5 in advance, £10/£7 on the door.
Book now with Eventbrite on
The Junior Doctors are continuing their long fight against Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's attempts to impose his new contract which they say is both unsafe and unsustainable (see WWIE August 6). On July 21, Justice for Health (JFH), the campaign group set up by the Junior Doctors in March, made the following announcement to all their supporters:
"On Thursday 21st July our Case Management Conference was heard by Justice Green at the Royal Courts of Justice, London. He believes we have a meritorious case worthy of a Judicial Review in the wider public interest. With your ongoing support we will challenge the Secretary of State for Health in the High Court.
"Justice Green provided a sound reminder that inside the Courts all are equals. Your wealth, your status, your machismo and your political influence are irrelevant. The question will only ever be, Mr Hunt, in the eyes of the Law, were your actions right or wrong?
"Because of the thousands that have pledged and donated and the unbelievable support we have rallied together the Secretary of State will be called to account for his behaviour in this unprecedented dispute and in the imposition of an unsafe and untested contract on the Junior Doctors of England - the accountability that our patients and colleagues deserve.
"Please continue to show your support."
In an update announcement on July 26, the JFH said that the massive public support for the Junior Doctors had "led to another round of astonishing, record-breaking judicial review fundraising. This clearly demonstrates the strength of feeling from NHS Staff and public" and that, thanks to "your donations, the immediate financial restrictions in taking the competition law challenge forward were lifted and we had the freedom to give this option full consideration. We want to have the best possible chance of winning our judicial review".
The JFH are fighting their case on the basis that: "It is important to know that existing government legislation recognises every Trust as an individual employer and we would argue that the only lawful way in which they can all be asked to use the same contract is with the agreement of the employees or their representative unions. This would mean that in the NHS, the only lawful national contract is a mutually agreed one". Confirmation of the court case is pending and is expected to be a two-day hearing in mid-September; an announcement will be made when the details are known.
The Junior Doctors concluded their statement by saying: "The Health Secretary has tried everything to avoid this case being heard, and we will do everything we can to hold him to account for his actions."
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