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Volume 45 Number 3, February 7, 2015 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Growing Resistance to the Austerity Agenda
for the NHS as the Election Approaches

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :

Growing Resistance to the Austerity Agenda for the NHS as the Election Approaches

Our Communities, Our Public Services – The Rights of All Must Be Defended!

Battle of Saltley Gate 43rd Anniversary

Churchill and the Commemoration of the End of the Second World War

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Growing Resistance to the Austerity Agenda
for the NHS as the Election Approaches

The growing resistance to the austerity agenda as applied to the NHS is set to be a prominent feature of the election campaign.

There is a demand that candidates take a clear stand on the future of the NHS, opposing its privatisation, guaranteeing its funding, reversing its direction in the interests of the claims of the people for health care at the highest level, and affirming that health care is a right.

These stands will be the touchstone as to how candidates will be judged on the issue of the NHS.

The National Health Action Party itself is standing candidates who should be supported. The NHA Party is challenging the wrecking of the NHS in the constituencies of David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt and others. Key to its campaign is the mobilisation of the people in opposition to the wrecking and privatisation of the NHS by the Conservative-led Coalition government.

Dr Clive Peedell, NHA Party
Actions such as the Valentine’s Day, February 14, Day of Action, promoted by the 999 Call for the NHS, are taking place to show support for the NHS and to oppose its fragmentation and dismantling.

Health workers themselves are fighting the battle not only against the despicable way they are being treated but to take a stand in defence of the health service. They are opposing being scapegoated for the failings of the NHS, fighting for a decent level of pay, adequate staffing levels and recruitment, and opposing the climate of diktat which is resulting in increasing numbers of sincere and conscientious health workers feeling bullied, marginalised and unable to speak out. For them, safeguarding the future of the health service and changing its direction is an issue of paramount importance.

Stafford Hospital campaigners
Many commentators and campaigners are pointing to the future of the NHS being the focal issue on which the general election will turn. It is crucial, not simply from the point of view of how the emphasis has been changed since its founding in 1948 from its focus on the right of the individual to health care. It is also crucial from the point of view of fighting for a modern society in which the needs of the members of that society for health care are met. The election campaign provides the opportunity to step up the fight for this right and to prepare to hold any future government to account on this issue.

Much is being made about the “crisis in hospitals”, and the need for health workers and paramedics to meet targets and what is the cause of the failure to do so. Rather than face up to its responsibility, it is indicative of its contempt of the needs of the people that the government shifted the goalposts. Its solution to the increasing numbers of hospitals declaring “major incidents” was to alter the criteria for “major incidents”, thus making it harder to declare them.

Thus an important election issue is to fight to ensure that the lack of beds, staff and access to health care is reversed. Hospitals must be supported, not closed or downgraded. The fraudulent phrases about “putting the patient” first must be exposed, and the handing over of the public service of health care to the control of private health monopolies must be blocked.

The conclusion is that people should use the election to say No to the Coalition, defeat the austerity agenda and elect candidates who stand against austerity and for the rights of all. The issue is the direction in which the government is taking the NHS, and this must be reversed. The model of the purchaser/provider split must be replaced by the principle that health care is a right.

What is important to take up for solution in the election campaign is the creation of a society which recognises health care as a right. It is an opportunity for the working class and people to work out how to seize the political initiative. The parties which refuse to recognise health care as a right must be kept out of power, and candidates elected who take a stand against austerity and recognise this right. The austerity agenda must be defeated!

Article Index


Workers' Movement

Our Communities, Our Public Services – The Rights of All Must Be Defended!

Public sector strike, Newcastle, July 2014
On Saturday, February 7, a demonstration organised by the Public Services Alliance (PSA) is taking place in Gateshead from West Street to a rally at the Civic Centre against the cuts to Gateshead Council services.

The local authority is proposing to close five libraries, libraries which provide the focus for many elderly people and parents with young children who use the services regularly. It also plans to close some leisure centres and reduce the hours of others. It is proposing to totally dismantle the irreplaceable home support service for older people in Gateshead which helps them maintain their independence and safety, prevents hospital admissions, and indeed at times saves lives.

The demonstration is also protesting at the proposed closure of acute mental health beds at the Tramwell unit in Gateshead which the Northumbria Tyne and Wear Mental Health Trust is currently “consulting” on. This closure is being presented as the only option and would mean that patients and relatives in the future would be forced to travel long distances for in-patient treatment.

Also on February 7, the Save Our Fire Station campaign is holding a march in Sunderland against the closure of three fire stations: Sunderland Central, Gosforth in Newcastle and Wallsend in North Tyneside. This march and rally is ahead of a meeting of Tyne and Wear Fire Authority which is looking to save cash over the next three years following £8.8m of government cuts.

Public sector strike, Newcastle, July 2014
Most local authority funding comes from central government, with only about a quarter raised locally through council tax on local residential and business properties. What this local taxation hides is that the government has the responsibility to meet the needs of every community and central government taxes people in every community and workplace via income tax, corporation tax, purchase tax (VAT) and national insurance. It distributes this funding via its local authorities through what it describes as a “government grant”. Yet responsibility lies with government on behalf of society to provide modern public services for all the people who live and work in every part of the country. In distributing this central funding, the government present this funding to local authorities as a “grant” as if it is a “cost and burden” to the national treasury. The pretext is given of doing away with “big government” and the “nanny state” and other such pronouncements. “Big government” must be downsized to those of the 1930s to remove the “burden on business initiative” the favourite argument of the ruling circles runs these days.

Over the last five years, the Coalition government, far from taking up its responsibility for local authority funding of public services, has taken what has been described as a “sledgehammer” to the budgets of local authorities by reducing the government “grant” which has led to unprecedented cuts wrecking whole swathes of public services. At the same time, money is still diverted into “capital budgets” which are serviced out of what is left of the council revenue. These “capital budgets” serve the big corporations and their vast profits for “town re-generation” schemes and so on. These are schemes which sometimes spend billions of pounds in the pursuit of attracting “inward investment” of the monopolies which serve the rich at the expense of more human-centred public services which are being cut back
South Tyneside District Hospital picket, 2014
and underfunded. For example, in Gateshead Council's Medium Term Strategy 2015-2018 it shows it spent £60 million in 2014 on capital projects but the report points out, “The Council cannot use any capital resources to fund revenue expenditure, but revenue resources can be used to fund capital costs.” Education services, fire services, police services, and other services wholly or partially funded by councils are everywhere facing savage cuts in the name of “efficiency” savings. This is similar to the way that the NHS Trusts are facing “financial crisis” following cuts in their budgets, whilst the Coalition continues the big lie that the NHS is “protected” from cuts.

According to the April 2013 report of the Local Government Association, Councils were then “half way through a scheduled 40 per cent cut in funding from central government”, having cut £10 billion of a projected £20 billion over five years from local authority
Public sector strike, Newcastle, July 2014
budgets. This has led to the closure of schools, care homes, libraries, community centres, transport schemes, sports facilities and many other vital services all over the country, often described as “soft options”! These sledgehammer cuts have continued under the fraudulent “austerity” agenda, cutting to the bone even vital council services that are the statutory obligations of government and local government such as those connected with child protection and adult care, social services and so on. For example, 59,000 jobs were cut from the North East council services in this period. South Tyneside Council had cut 1,200 jobs and £75 million by 2012 and cut £23 million from adult care by 2013. Similar cuts took place with other councils. Gateshead Council had cut £90.6 million by 2014.

It is reported that this year the government tried to claim that the amount councils can spend “taking into account other resources, including business rates” will only “fall on average by 1.8%”. This is a trick to hide the truth because the “other resources” include the ring-fenced Better Care Fund and an expectation that councils use what reserves they have and sell off council property. The Local Government Association calculates a figure excluding council tax and part of the Better Care Fund which it does not think will go to councils, and it reckons that funding is going to fall by an average of 8.8% next year. Already, Manchester recently announced a “consultation” on the scale of the 2015-2017 cuts with a cut of “£55.24million from next year's budget, rising to a possible total of £70.22million over the next two years”.

Public sector strike, Newcastle, July 2014
South Tyneside Council has said that its target is a cut of £22 million for this year. By the end of 2015/16, it is estimated that Gateshead Council’s core grant funding will have reduced by £59m (36%) from 2010. This equates to an approximate £300 per head reduction in government funding over the period. In December last year, Scottish local authorities whose “grant” has been cut were told they would get funding of almost £10.85bn in return for freezing council tax for the eighth year in a row – in other words providing a financial penalty to stop Scotland exercising sovereignty over its council tax. Councils in Wales have been told they will get £146m less in 2015-16 from the Welsh government, an overall cut of 3.4% on this year.

The demonstrations which are taking place in the North East of England this weekend are part of building the resistance to the wrecking of public services. They are not falling prey to the claim that one service is more valuable than another but are opposing all the cuts and resulting job losses. They are affirming that there is an alternative and that these are our communities, our public services, and that the rights of all must be defended!

Article Index


Battle of Saltley Gate 43rd Anniversary

The West Midlands Region of the Socialist Labour Party is organising on February 7 a celebration of the 43rd anniversary of the event in 1972 which became known as the Battle of Saltley Gate.

Click image to enlarge
This was one of the decisive moments in the history of the workers’ movement in Britain. It paved the way for the February 1974 election over “who rules Britain”, which Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath lost. Thus it made an indelible mark on the history of British politics as a defining moment for the role of the working class. It represented the power and aspirations of the organised working class, which the ruling neo-liberal elite which became personified in Margaret Thatcher became determined to smash.

In January 1972, the miners, under the leadership of Arthur Scargill, undertook their first national strike in nearly 50 years. Four weeks into the strike, 2,000 miners came to Birmingham to force the closure of Saltley Coke Works in Birmingham. The miners had the support of 30,000 Birmingham workers who went on strike in solidarity, 15,000 of whom joined the miners in marching on Saltley Gate. The workers won the battle.

Birmingham Trades Council led the organisation of the 40th anniversary of the battle and they agreed that they should help deliver an annual event. Speakers at the 43rd anniversary include Andrew Jordan, President of the Socialist Labour Party, and Ian Scott from the Campaign Against Euro-Federalism, who is also Assistant Secretary of Birmingham TUC.

Article Index


No to Imperialist War!

Churchill and the Commemoration of the End of the Second World War

Yalta Summit, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin
On January 30 commemorative events were organised throughout the country to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, who is most often lauded as Britain’s prime minister during the period of the Second World War. There was extensive media coverage of these commemorative events that included services in Westminster Abbey and Parliament, while the Royal Mint issued a new £20 coin. Several leading politicians made speeches on the occasion, including David Cameron, who remarked that what was important about Churchill was that he “knew Britain was not just a place on the map but a force in the world”. Cameron made it clear that he thought that Churchill’s “courage and resolve” was also required now and that in this century too what he referred to as “freedom and democracy” would “win out over barbarism and tyranny in the end”.

The commemorative events were undoubtedly designed to extol the times when Britain “was not just a place on the map but a force in the world”, since many associate Churchill’s death with the death of imperial British, which today the Westminster consensus is determined to resurrect in a new form. But what is of particular note is that although there is official concern to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of the wartime prime minister, there seems to be so little concern for marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe which falls on May 8, the date of the unconditional surrender by the Nazi regime in Germany. This is all in rather stark contrast to the government’s approach to commemorating the centenary First World War, with events planned until 2018.

The differences between the two world wars are significant. The 1914-1918 war was a predatory imperialist war, waged to re-divide the world between Britain and the other big powers. It was a war fought over colonies, resources and spheres of influence and opposed by the most enlightened individuals and organisations. Following that war the big powers carried out their re-division, created all the conditions for a further global conflict and also for many of the problems which exist in the world today, especially in Palestine and what is referred to as the “Middle East”. The most significant consequence of the First World War were the revolutionary events that occurred in several countries, most significantly in Tsarist Russia, where the working people empowered themselves and for the first time in history, led by Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, created a new political and economic system in which it was the working class, not the monarchists, imperialists and exploiting classes, who wielded state power.

The Red Flag is raised over the Reichstag
The Second World War, which was occasioned by the nurturing of fascism by Britain and its allies, with the hope that it would destroy the new Soviet Union, necessarily assumed the character of an anti-fascist war in which the peoples of many countries, led by those of the Soviet Union, fought not just to rid the world of fascism but for a new world in which war, colonialism, racism and the exploitation of the many by the few would be consigned to history. It was a war in which Churchill, who in 1919 had been the main advocate of Britain’s attempts to “strangle the Bolshevik baby in its cradle”, was compelled to find common cause with the Soviet Union and all those countries that eventually referred to themselves as the United Nations, that is those who united in action to rid the world of fascism and to create new international machinery to maintain peace. When the United Nations Organisation was created at the termination of the war it enshrined in its Charter the aspirations of many to build a world in which the rights of men and women of all nations were recognised as equal, where freedom and social progress were promoted and machinery was put in place to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. As is well known, the unity of the war-time allies did not last long and only a few months after the surrender of Nazi Germany Churchill was to make reference to an “iron curtain” and Britain, alongside the US and others, adopted a hostile approach to the Soviet Union which soon culminated in the so-called Cold War.

It is clear that from that time onwards there have been attempts to rewrite the history of the Second World War, to create confusion about its causes and to obscure the important lessons that humanity must draw from such a global conflict, which led to the loss of over 50 million lives, and its aftermath. The Second World War was a tragedy but one in which the peoples of the world fought to prevent an even greater tragedy. In the course of the war and directly following it the conditions were created for the liberation of many nations in Africa and Asia and for the working people to advance their cause for progress and social emancipation. The few years after the victory over Nazi fascism were a time of great momentum, profound changes and the creation of the socialist camp.

It should also not be forgotten that less than two months after VE (Victory in Europe) Day, the working class and people of Britain, with their aspirations for a new society, one that was built on opposition to all that imperialism, fascism and Nazism stood for, threw Churchill out of power in the July 1945 general election.

Today the problem is not just that representatives of the Polish and Ukrainian governments are being economical with the truth about the nature, causes and events of the Second World War. Such disinformation and the falsification of history is also a characteristic of official pronouncements in Britain. What is more, there appears to be official attempts to prevent the widespread discussion of the lessons of the Second World War on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of its termination in Europe.

Far from defending “freedom and democracy”, as David Cameron alleges, the present government has followed its predecessors on a warmongering and interventionist path. It is the task of all peace loving people to learn the lessons of history and create the conditions for an anti-war government.

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