Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 45 Number 30, October 24, 2015 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

The Crisis in Britain's Steel Industry:

The Working Class Must Force the
Government to Make the Alternative Happen

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :

The Working Class Must Force the Government to Make the Alternative Happen
No the EU of Austerity! Develop Trade and National Relations for the People’s Benefit!

Safeguarding the Future of Lewisham Hospital
On the Junior Doctors' Demonstration: Let's Save the NHS!
The Government Must Invest to Safeguard the Future of the NHS!

John McDonnell's speech to the Labour Party conference:
The Workers' Independent Thinking Is Decisive in Changing the Economic Discourse

70th Anniversary of the Manchester Pan-African Congress

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The Crisis in Britain's Steel Industry:

The Working Class Must Force the
Government to Make the Alternative Happen

The closure of Britain's second largest steel producer, Redcar Blast Furnace and coke ovens, which was shut down as a result of the liquidation of the UK subsidiary of Thailand's biggest steel maker Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI) on October 1, has been followed by further announcements of massive job losses and closures further wrecking Britain's steel industry and ending all steel production in Scotland. On October 20, Tata Steel announced that 900 jobs will be lost with the closure of the plant in Scunthorpe and 400 jobs with the closure of the last remaining steel producers in Scotland which are the Clydebridge plant in Cambuslang and the Dalzell plate rolling works in Motherwell. At the same time, Caparo Industries steel manufacturers and distributors has threatened 1,700 workers across 20 sites, as it was also put into administration in declaring bankruptcy. Following these announcements, the Prime Minister and government ministers have been vigorously challenged by the workers and their representatives lobbying Parliament and forcing debates on the government in Parliament that it did not want to have. However, the issue facing the working class is to force the government to make the alternative happen.

Introducing the backbench debate on the steel industry that she initiated on September 17, Anna Turley, Labour/Co-op MP for Redcar, said: “UK steel is at breaking point. This is a crisis for one of the most important foundation industries in the British economy. It employs 30,000 people across the country in highly skilled jobs, often in industrial heartlands with high unemployment. The UK steel industry supports the automotive, construction and aerospace sectors, as well as a raft of
Tata Steel, Scunthorpe
supply chains, and it is vital that there is a future for steel making at the heart of industry in this country.” She concluded by saying that if the government does not act, “we will know that their words are hollow”. She said that in 2011 the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised “a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers” and she put a demand to the Minister: ”Will she act now to enable the sector to weather this storm? Can she tell the House whether the Chancellor’s 'march of the makers' includes the proud makers of steel on Teesside?”

The MP was joined by many other MPs contributing to the debate from different parties. For example, Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP), pointed out that Tata Steel’s Clydebridge plant was in her constituency, and its sister plant, Dalzell, is in the neighbouring constituency of Motherwell and Wishaw. These two plants are part of the Tata Steel long products business and she declared that Parliament needs to ensure that the plants in Scotland remain open and remain sustainable, adding jobs to the communities. After speaking about the whole history of the Scottish steel industry and its impending loss she declared: “The UK Government’s flippant 'leave it to the market' attitude will destroy this industry. Action needs to be taken, and it needs to be taken now.”

Caparo Merchant Bar in the shadow of Tata Steel, Scunthorpe
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn also confronted the Prime Minister during Prime Minister's Questions on the government's refusal to intervene to save the steel industry, saying that “the real problem is that the government doesn't actually have an industrial strategy to protect the most important industries we have in this country”. He pointed out that if they had they would not have had to be “dragged kicking and screaming to Parliament three times in the last eight days”. He said that there “should be concrete action today so that there is government intervention, there is support for the industry and we do have a viable steel industry for the long term”.

The present crisis of Britain's steel industry today is the culmination of years of closing of plants and selling off the remaining assets of what was previously the state owned British Steel Corporation by Margaret Thatcher's government in the 1980s. At that time, some 265,000 worked in an industry which now employs around 30,000. The British Steel Corporation was a state owned global monopoly made up of companies which had previously driven British colonial trade, with some 200 factories of wholly or partly owned subsidiaries based in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Africa, South Asia and South America. Instead of the Thatcher government addressing the need to end the unequal trade with former colonial countries and develop mutually beneficial trade relations in steel production it pursued its neo-liberal, foreign domination agenda and entered into massive
Redcar Blast Furnace, Teesside
steel plant closures and privatisation of the industry at home and abroad. Such wanton destruction of Consett, Corby, Ravenscraig and Shotton in the 1980s devastated whole steel communities before the remaining steel assets were sold off at knock down prices to the private sector. The new US Chief Executive, Ian MacGregor, was brought in by Margaret Thatcher to implement this mass destruction, before the company was privatised as British Steel plc in 1988. This company then merged with the Dutch steel company Koninklijke Hoogovens to form Corus in 1999. Corus was taken over by the Indian Steel monopoly Tata in 2007.

Since the 1980s, successive governments have continued to wash their hands of responsibility for the steel industry, have allowed the profiteering of the various private monopoly owners, sanctioning the closures and asset stripping, and leaving the steel industry to the profiteering of finance capital, consultancy firms, energy monopolies and so on. They have refused to make the investment required to maintain a modern steel industry on which the social economy relies.

David Cameron reflected this abrogation of responsibility for such a vital industry during Prime Minister's Questions when he could only shout down the opposition with a comment that Parliament “can't set the steel price” and that the problem was cheap Chinese steel and that China was “overproducing steel” and this cheap steel was allegedly being “dumped” on the world steel market. But the fact is that not only does the government refuse to accept responsibility for a steel industry which the cartel parties of government have abandoned since the 1980s but they also refuse to develop proper trade relations with other countries. Their whole orientation is to get behind the competition of their monopolies on the global market. They actively support the domination of the financial and other markets by their financial oligarchy which has led to the most severe impoverishment in many countries of the world. They have also actively promoted the export of arms all over the world to war zones and are behind the mayhem, death and
Dalzell plate rolling mill, Motherwell, Scotland
destruction in Iraq, Libya, Syria and in many other parts of the world. This is quite opposite to the way that China has conducted itself. As it is, the trade deals being made are perfectly proper for the Chinese and the British government has no right to complain and try to divert attention from their own failure to safeguard the British steel industry and to sell off the country's assets with no concern for the consequences.

Today the steel industry has been left without being part of an alternative industrial strategy to meet the needs of a modern socialised economy but has been abandoned to go from one crisis to another. This is leading the steel industry down the road to its complete destruction under the neo-liberal agenda of the present government. Only the working class with its programme that serves its interests has a human-centred programme for the national economy which would safeguard the vital manufacturing base and ensure that trade deals enhance the life of the people. The British government has a responsibility to ensure that Britain has a steel industry not only for the long term but a modern steel industry on which the social economy relies and which mutually benefits the people of other countries. But the challenge today for the steel workers and the whole working class is to build the Workers Opposition and fight for this alternative direction for the economy so that the government is forced make the alternative happen. Only the working class can save the day!

Article Index


No to the EU of Austerity! Develop Trade and
National Relations for the People’s Benefit!

As we go to press, the breaking news is that the anti-austerity, anti-EU parties in Portugal, which won an absolute majority as a coalition in the recent general election, have been denied their right to form a government by the constitutional head of state. President Aníbal Cavaco Silva cited grounds of national interest in that such a government would precipitate a major clash with the European Union and its eurozone. [1]

In the context of the movement in Britain to leave the EU, it must be stated that there is an alternative to the EU of the monopolies. It lies in upholding the public good, opposing the dictate of European and global monopolies, including the international financiers, and affirming the sovereignty of each state's public authority over the direction of its economy and society as a whole. On that basis, the people of each country can develop their co-operation and unity which expresses their interests and not that of the transnational corporations; on that basis sovereign peoples can develop their own institutions of international mutual benefit.

The EU represents the interests of the neo-liberal agenda of the dominance of the global monopolies, the transnational corporations and the financial oligarchy of the EU. The dangerous developments within the EU, such as the secret TTIP negotiations with the United States, are designed to impose private monopoly interests and wreck public services. This is under the fraud of harmonising regulation, and the proposals for a European armed force which would lead to the escalation and broadening of armed conflict. The EU is a force for imposing the austerity agenda, as in Greece.

Protest against TTIP outside the European
Commission, London, October 7, 2015
Membership of the EU would tie the hands of any future progressive government that serves working people. To think of the EU as a force for good international relations in Europe is an illusion, imbuing workers with false hopes.

The alternative is to build and develop trade and other relations between nations and countries for mutual benefit. The mood which has burst on the scene since September 12 is that there is an alternative to austerity. This must be extended to the EU. There is an alternative to the power structures of the EU, an alternative which serves the needs of the people in the course of their daily lives.

Just as the emergence of a “new politics” championed by Jeremy Corbyn comes out of and is based in the struggles of the people to resist the anti-social offensive and get organised, so new relations of the states of Europe will not emerge out of some kind of “reform” of the EU of the monopolies and austerity. It will emerge out of the struggles of the people against the dictate of monopoly capital. The “internationalism” of the EU is an illusion, based on the wrecking of the nation-state, the end of the nation-building projects of the big powers, and a hostility to others’ nation-building projects, a hostility which includes the so-called “free trade” and the “free movement of capital, goods, services and labour” which is designed to trample on the rights of everyone.

Massive demonstration against EU,
Berlin, October 10, 2015
The internationalism of an alternative Europe is based on true social relations between peoples and their good-neighbourliness. Ultimately this means that the people must be empowered in the European states to bring these relations about. But the time is now to declare that this is the way forward and to hold governments to account that they conduct affairs on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. It would be an important break with the old for Britain to leave the EU. It is not a backward step but a step to defeat austerity on a European scale.

Such a step provides an opportunity to affirm in the countries which presently make up Britain or the UK that the alternative can and must be fought for nationally, as well as internationally. It provides a golden opportunity to build national economies which serve the public good and the people’s well-being. It provides an opportunity for the working people to affirm: We Decide! It provides an opportunity for working people to say No, Oxi, to legislation that goes against their interests.

The austerity agenda is destructive of the social economy. The EU represents this austerity agenda. The rights of working people, make no mistake, have been fought for by working people themselves. These rights are inviolable whatever the EU may say or not say. The issue is to have them enshrined and guaranteed in national legislation. The long-term viability of the national economy and public services are serious concerns. The EU, far from guaranteeing these long-term aims is concerned with short-term realisation of maximum profit.

The alternative for the people is themselves to fight for a pro-social direction for the economy and the guarantee of workers’ rights. This is possible in the context of fighting for control of the economy, wresting it away from those in power in the EU and leaving the EU altogether. This would be an important step in the people gaining control over their economy and over decisions which affect their lives. This is not the be-all and end-all of the fight for a national economy and public services which are under the sovereign control of the people who create the wealth in the first place. The fight for this continues and intensifies at home. But it can actually be carried out in conjunction with all those forces fighting for the same aim.

The movement is on to defeat austerity and promote the public good and all public services. The move to leave an EU dominated by the “old imperialist powers” which defends the narrow private interests of the monopolies and attempts to impose them on the member states, especially the smaller powers, should be engaged as part of the whole movement to defeat austerity. The defeat of the austerity agenda is what the whole movement to leave the EU is about and this is what should be on the banner of the labour and trade union movement. It can be brought about together with the aim of empowering working people as the decision-makers. Otherwise further crises are bound to be the result to the detriment of the people of Europe as a whole.

This alternative is where people have control of their own lives and future, in which the economy is our economy, resources are our resources, and the co-operation of the peoples of Europe is strengthened for their mutual benefit, not for the rich and powerful.


Portugal's socialist leader, Antonio Costa
1. The Daily Telegraph , in an article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard on October 23, wrote: “Mr Cavaco Silva is effectively using his office to impose a reactionary ideological agenda, in the interests of creditors and the EMU establishment, and dressing it up with remarkable Chutzpah as a defence of democracy.

“The Portuguese Socialists and Communists have buried the hatchet on their bitter divisions for the first time since the Carnation Revolution and the overthrow of the Salazar dictatorship in the 1970s, yet they are being denied their parliamentary prerogative to form a majority government.

This is a dangerous démarche. The Portuguese conservatives and their media allies behave as if the Left has no legitimate right to take power, and must be held in check by any means.

“These reflexes are familiar – and chilling – to anybody familiar with 20th century Iberian history, or indeed Latin America. That it is being done in the name of the euro is entirely to be expected.

“Greece’s Syriza movement, Europe’s first radical-Left government in Europe since the Second World War, was crushed into submission for daring to confront eurozone ideology. Now the Portuguese Left is running into a variant of the same meat-grinder.

“Europe’s socialists face a dilemma. They are at last waking up to the unpleasant truth that monetary union is an authoritarian Right-wing enterprise that has slipped its democratic leash, yet if they act on this insight in any way they risk being prevented from taking power.

“Brussels really has created a monster.”

Article Index


The Battle for the Future Direction of the NHS

Safeguarding the Future of Lewisham Hospital

The Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign (SLHC) has fought on many fronts, relying on its own initiative and mobilising all concerned people to participate in the fight, to safeguard the future of Lewisham Hospital. They have been aware that the future direction of the whole NHS is at stake. It is a future in which the NHS is run on the basis that health care is a right, and the claims of all for health care at the highest level are met. This has come into clash with the anti-social austerity agenda which has been set on delivering health care on behalf of the health monopolies, has put health workers and professionals under unbearable strain, and has been wrecking the health service as a whole by starving it of funds and investment, compounding the problems by saddling it with punitive debts with the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) to the construction and other monopolies.

This issue of the future direction for the NHS is why the SLHC as well as fighting to Save Lewisham Hospital has put forward the slogan, “A Victory for Lewisham Hospital Is a Victory for Everyone”. For example, when the campaign decisively won its judicial review over the Trust Special Administrator acting outside his powers, this was a blow to the whole campaign of the government to close and fragment hospitals, to make health care less accessible and to ride roughshod over the claims of the people to health care. The slogan also embodies that success comes through fighting, and that the future direction of the NHS lies in the struggle to safeguard the right to health care. Thus the building of the SLHC as a consolidated fighting organisation devoted to combating all the deleterious effects of the austerity agenda on the NHS is an example to other campaigns, while the setbacks of some other campaigns can be seen as temporary in the context of the advance of the movement.

It was against this background that the SLHC had warned of the “unfinished business” of ongoing threats to A&E, maternity, intensive care and children's wards at Lewisham Hospital. The Campaign stated that it was ready to fight again to defend the hospital with its comprehensive services because, despite the previous victories, it was constantly aware of the real possibility of further closure threats. To this end it launched a new petition to highlight the situation, to demonstrate the support of the community for the hospital, and to affirm that Lewisham Hospital's comprehensive health care services are essential.

Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group has now written to Lewisham Greenwich NHS Trust giving a commitment to the longer term continuation of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E department. This has been done with the full support of OHSEL (Our Healthier South East London – made up of the six CCG Commissioning Strategy Team) and NHS England.

The letter states. “[Lewisham CCG confirms] that commissioners expect to need all of south east London’s existing A&E departments, including at Lewisham Hospital. For the avoidance of doubt, we expect the Lewisham A&E Department to remain as an emergency care facility operating 24 hours a day.”

The SLHC has stated that this is excellent news for the Trust, for the 6,000 staff and for the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign which has united the local community over the last three years to defend NHS services. The campaign had feared that the pressure from NHS England on the six CCGs to make £1.1billion cost efficiencies annually could jeopardise services at the hospital – including the A&E which the campaign had fought so hard to save.

Dr Louise Irvine, local GP and Chair of the SLH campaign said: “We are delighted with this firm commitment to Lewisham A&E from the commissioners. We want Lewisham Hospital to continue to successfully provide vital services to our community. This statement will really help the trust continue to retain and recruit the best healthcare staff which is excellent news. We are pleased that the commissioners clearly understand the importance of thriving District General Hospitals like Lewisham.”

The Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign had met with representatives from OHSEL, launched a successful petition to highlight this consultation and consistently worked to keep the public aware of developments within community and hospital healthcare. The SLHC says that it will remain very active and on alert to make sure that the commissioners’ expectations for South East London’s A&E departments happen.

“We are extremely happy about this week’s statement because it clarifies the importance of local A&E departments at a time when our population is increasing. This is really great news for Lewisham but there are still some very serious threats ahead to the NHS both locally and nationally from this current government,” Dr Tony O’Sullivan, Consultant Paediatrician at Lewisham Greenwich NHS Trust and a Save Lewisham Hospital campaigner, said.

The Campaign points out that future threats are severe: unrealistic NHS and social care budget cuts and targets, crippling PFI debts and unfair changes to NHS staff contracts – highlighted most recently by Jeremy Hunt’s attack on the hours and pay for junior doctors.

Vicky Penner of the SLHC said: “The SLH campaign will carry on actively drawing attention to the problems that our NHS faces from a government with ongoing contempt for patients, doctors and nurses. As a community campaign we have direct experience in Lewisham of Jeremy Hunt’s unacceptable attitude to NHS issues and staff. We send a huge message of support to junior doctors around the country and hope he quickly alters his current misguided and damaging approach.”

WWIE congratulates all those who have been involved in the fight to safeguard the future of Lewisham Hospital on this latest victory. It is clear that the campaign is not resting on its laurels. There are serious battles ahead to ensure a new direction for the NHS, including the fight to repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Lewisham's battles and other courageous fights have been won through the unity in action of the forces in motion, based on the principle that health care is a right. Ultimately, lasting victory will be won with the people at every level of society becoming the decision-makers. Developing this movement, including the participation of the organised workers' movement, is the task of the moment.

Article Index


On the Junior Doctors' Demonstration: Let's Save the NHS!

Thousands of junior doctors took part in a march on Parliament on Saturday, October 17. The protest started at Waterloo Place and marched along Pall Mall and Whitehall. It ended in Parliament Square outside the House of Commons. Protests also took place in Belfast and Nottingham, as well as in Dundee on Sunday, October 18.

The London march was inspiring, giving a powerful sense of determination among the thousands of young doctors. There was a sense of a movement with gathering momentum, infused with energy and excitement. Their fight is a fight to save the NHS, and very aware of this “NHS, NHS!” was the main shout of their demonstration. But it is also a fight to safeguard the future generations of doctors, and the health service as a whole. The fact is that if the government are stymied by the doctors' fight, then it will be much harder for the government to impose unsocial hours on the rest of health workers, for example.

The planned contract changes which the government wants to impose will see England's 38,000 trainees working more hours for less pay, which will naturally put patient safety at risk. The junior doctors fear that their pay will be slashed by up to 40%, they will be forced to work unsociable hours without commensurate pay, as their normal working hours will be extended from 7pm to 10pm and will include Saturday working.

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Strike action among doctors is still on the cards after negotiations broke down between NHS Employers and the BMA over the contract, which covers all doctors up to consultant level. A series of letters between Mr Hunt and Dr Johann Malawana, head of the junior doctors' committee at the BMA, have failed to bring the two groups back to the negotiating table.

The BMA rightly identifies that the pay progression proposals could particularly hit women, and those working part time. It highlights fears that the loss of financial penalties inherent in the banding system mean trusts will be able to exploit doctors. The BMA states that doctors are being punished by the government at a time when doctors are working harder than ever to deliver a safe and quality service to patients.

Ministers are likely to make a full and final offer to junior doctors in coming weeks, with a final contract proposal drawn up by NHS Employers, which will be imposed. BMA members will almost certainly ballot for strike action – with a vote now scheduled for 5 November.

* * * * *

Blog by Dr Louise Irvine, October 16

Junior doctors contract imposition. Not Fair, Not Safe

The junior doctors have already shown themselves adept at getting their message across, especially in their use of social media but also to some extent in the mainstream press, so I really didn’t want to be “teaching my granny to suck eggs.” But, they are up against a very deliberate barrage of misinformation and untruths, coming from the Government and uncritically restated by much of the mainstream press, so there is a real need to pool resources and ideas about how to overcome this.

A vital characteristic of the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign was the way that it brought doctors, other health workers, patients and public together in common cause with a clearly defined shared goal. I talked about how we did that and our key lessons from that experience: simple clear messages; imaginative and creative ways of conveying those messages; reaching out to everyone in the community through a myriad of avenues; engaging with the personal and emotional aspects of the cause as well as the hard facts and evidence to counter Government myths and deliberate misinformation.

Our campaign welcomed and made use of all the talented creative people that offered their help: that was a key way to widen our appeal and involve more people. But perhaps I didn’t need to tell my audience that – junior doctors are clearly a talented bunch. Their social media presence shows that amongst them are artists, musicians, writers and performers who are able to find novel ways to reach out to the public.

We can expect to see more of this. We can also expect to see more of their expert challenges to Government spin and deceit, countering with facts, evidence and well grounded arguments. All this is necessary for a fully rounded campaign.

But there is still some way to go to get the messages clearly out to the public. I was discussing this recently with some of the junior doctors I teach in Lewisham and they said that the thing that they found most frustrating was how even some of their own friends and family don’t really understand the issues.

For example, one source of confusion is the phrase “junior doctors”: many people think that means people fresh out of medical school in their first year in hospital. In fact “junior doctor” is a misnomer and refers to any doctor in training before they become consultant, GP or staff or associate specialist. For example, in some specialties you can be a junior doctor for 9 years.

The other area of misunderstanding is that the anti-social hours doctors have to work are “overtime”. It’s not overtime – they are anti-social hours that the doctor is contractually obliged to work. All junior doctors have to work beyond usual hours and are governed by the European Working Time directive which limits the average hours worked to 48 per week over a six month period, but shifts can still be exhausting with runs of night shifts of 12 hours or more.

One doctor wrote: “Night working needs more controls in order to keep doctors safe. I can manage a run of intense 13 hour night shifts in a busy tertiary centre but I am terrified about falling asleep on the 37 mile drive home.”

All junior doctors end up working many more hours than that, unpaid. Hospitals are supposed to pay for this extra time, but only if it is arranged in advance. If a doctor judges it necessary to stay at work longer caring for a sick patient because there are not enough other colleagues on duty, then they don’t get paid for that. As patient demand and workload increase with staffing levels that don’t keep up, these extra unpaid hours have become part of the normal working week for many doctors. Hospitals are supposed to monitor these extra hours worked but in practice it is very difficult for juniors to get their hospital to do this monitoring or act on it. Their shift patterns change each week which makes family and personal life, child care etc. very difficult. But they accept that – they know its part of the job. That is not what they are complaining about. They are angry about a contract being imposed on them that will remove protections from excessive hours and will cut pay for those working in the most demanding specialties.

They are also angry at the way that Jeremy Hunt has tried to link the contract with the goal of 7 day working and misrepresented the research about increased risk of death for people admitted at weekends, spuriously linking it to the junior doctor contract issue when in fact there is no evidence at all that the contract they want to impose would make any difference to those statistics. As thousands of junior doctors and consultants pointed out forcefully in the #IminworkJeremy campaign, they are already working across the whole week so that the NHS can provide a 7 day service. They point out that if there is any need for increased resources at the weekend that should be for emergency care and not the routine care that Hunt is proposing, and that unless there are increased staff it will just spread existing staff more thinly across the week.

There are worrying signs that some patients are delaying going to hospital at weekends when they should have because they believed Hunt’s rhetoric about lack of services at weekends, and in so doing have put themselves at risk.

The junior doctors are going to ballot for industrial action. Its clearly not something they relish but they feel driven to this by Government intransigence. My feeling from the junior doctors I have spoken to, the outpouring of junior doctors’ views on social media, the big demonstrations and packed meetings that have already happened, and the atmosphere last night at the meeting I spoke at, is that this action will have virtually 100% support from junior doctors. They have the support of the rest of the medical profession, with some chairs of medical royal colleges having spoken in support, and they are winning over the public with their poignant, honest and compelling accounts of the reality of life as a junior doctor, combined with imaginative, witty and energetic engagement with the public, mainly through social media.

I have puzzled and puzzled about why the Government has chosen to start this fight. Is it cock up or conspiracy? Do they really want to bring the NHS to its knees or did they just stupidly think it would be easy to walk all over the junior doctors? The very specialities which are understaffed and suffering a recruitment crisis – like emergency medicine and general practice – are the ones where the doctors stand to lose out most. No wonder so many are applying to work abroad where pay and conditions are much better. Many hospital departments are already at tipping point with inadequate staffing levels and if they go down further cannot guarantee patient safety or quality care. Does the Government want to push them over the edge?

The junior doctors fight is not only a just fight to defend their pay and conditions; it is also a fight for the quality and safety of patient care – in short, for the future of the NHS as a quality public service.

Their slogan is Not Fair: Not Safe. It neatly sums up the issue: not just unfair for young doctors but unsafe for patients.

I will be joining them tomorrow on their demonstration from Waterloo Place to Parliament Square. Given the levels of determination, anger and unity amongst junior doctors, as well as their public support, I expect this will be a very big demo and one that will help bring home to Hunt, Cameron and their Government that they have a huge fight on their hands and that maybe, just maybe, they ought to re-enter negotiations with the junior doctors with no preconditions. If they don’t then industrial action looms, and all the signs are that it has solid support amongst doctors and also growing support from patients and public.

* * * * *

Open letter to Jeremy Hunt from the Society for Acute Medicine

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Dear Secretary of State,

As we head into what promises to be another difficult winter for the NHS, especially acute services, the Society for Acute Medicine wishes to express its grave concern regarding the ongoing dispute between NHS Employers and our junior doctor colleagues. We strongly believe that attempts to impose a new contract on junior doctors will have a catastrophic effect on the NHS, of which the long term consequences will dwarf any short-term fallout.

We recommend that you listen to our voice because a failure to do so will potentially jeopardise the very existence of the NHS. Initially we would like to dispel some common myths. Firstly, junior doctors are not really that junior. Whilst some have just left university, the majority are more senior and all of them are highly trained. They deserve to be treated with respect. We believe that you have described junior doctors as the backbone of the NHS and on this point we wholeheartedly agree.

Secondly, the call for 7-day working fails to acknowledge that doctors of all seniorities are currently working out-of-hours and at weekends. In acute and emergency specialties we already have significant service provision over 7-days. The paradox that our government fails to mention is that it is the doctors working in acute specialties who want to improve care at weekends. In our specialty, acute internal medicine, 90% of senior doctors support weekend services. However, to make this commitment work in a sustainable way we need a workforce which feels appreciated and properly rewarded.

Junior doctors still feel that a new contract is being imposed on them. We note the reassurances you made in your letter to Dr Johann Malawana, the BMA’s junior doctors leader, of October 8th 2015. However it is clear to everyone that your letter did not deliver the intended reassurances. We certainly support junior doctors when they argue that evening and Saturday working must not be seen as routine time. We are also concerned that doctors who wish to take time out of clinical training, for example to do research, or who wish to start a family, will be prejudiced by the new contract. We know that women outnumber men graduating with a medical degree. Yet the new contract will be less favourable for the majority of women doctors.

Discouraging our brightest young doctors from undertaking research is simply wrong.

Why are NHS Employers imposing a contract that will ultimately drive doctors away from medicine, especially acute specialities? Have the consequences not been considered? If junior doctors do not work in acute specialities we face an immediate recruitment and workforce crisis filling junior doctor posts and a longer-term shortage of consultants. Surely NHS Employers are aware that even under the current contract we are struggling to recruit to registrar level posts in many acute specialties, including our own. Ironically, Health Education England is funding a project to drive-up recruitment in acute internal medicine, which we call TakeAIM, and yet another NHS body is imposing a contract that could spark the biggest recruitment crisis ever seen in the NHS.

Sadly there will ultimately be one loser, patients. No staff means no service. No staff and we forget about 7-day services. No staff and the NHS collapses. Last winter the NHS reached breaking point; there is no luxury provision to allow the changes being imposed in the junior doctors’ contract. The NHS is a complex social model, with every area interdependent. Watching junior doctors driven away from their chosen vocation would be truly catastrophic.

The NHS, and hospitals in particular are a sanctuary not only for sick people but also those members of our society who are disadvantaged. Without junior doctors and acute services where will our old people, our homeless and patients with mental health illnesses go when no one else has a solution? In an imperfect world the UK boasts an institution that simply says ‘we care’.

Without junior doctors, without the consultants of tomorrow, that all disappears. People need to know that junior doctors are not asking for massive pay rises or the life-styles of premier league footballers; you know that. They deserve a fairer deal than that which is currently on the table. For the sake of every one of us who might be a patient tomorrow we politely ask you to do what doctors do every day, work for patients.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr Mark Holland
President, Society for Acute Medicine

Dr Nicholas Scriven,
President Elect, Society for Acute Medicine

Dr Alistair Douglas,
Immediate Past President, Society for Acute Medicine

Dr Hannah Skene,
Secretary, Society for Acute Medicine

Dr Susan Crossland
Treasurer, Society for Acute Medicine

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The Government Must Invest to Safeguard the Future of the NHS!

Heidi Alexander (centre) outside the Department of Health
On October 12, Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander tabled an Urgent Question in the House of Commons, asking the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement on the financial performance of the NHS.

In his reply, Ben Gummer, who is Under-Secretary of State for Health, said that the “financial position of the NHS is undoubtedly challenging”. He spoke of supporting “local organisations to make efficiency savings and reduce their deficits”, off-loading the blame onto the provision of agency staff, rather than addressing the underlying problem of under-staffing and the under-funding of resources and cut-backs on budgets, which the government itself sets. Thus his reply was all about “efficiency savings”.

In response, Heidi Alexander said that the minister “should make no mistake that when responses are as poor and lacking in detail as the one we have just heard, I will provide strong and robust opposition. Ministers are accountable to patients, and their silence on the growing black hole in NHS finances has been deeply disappointing, as is the absence of the Health Secretary today. Not a single Minister was available to be interviewed about the NHS on Friday: it is not good enough. The deficit for the first three months of this financial year was larger than the deficit for the whole of 2014-15.”

Heidi Alexander continued: “What advice has the Minister issued to hospital chief executives and finance directors about managing these pressures? Does he honestly think it is still possible for hospitals to balance the books, maintain current services, and deliver safe patient care? Given that the figures relate to quarter 1 and we are now in quarter 3, will he provide his latest assessment of the NHS financial outlook?

“There is clearly not enough money in the current budget to cover existing costs. How on earth does the Minister plan to fund more services spread over seven days? The Conservatives’ election promises of more money have yet to materialise, and now their commitment to transparency in the NHS is looking decidedly shaky. For someone who prides himself on being open, the Health Secretary has been suspiciously silent about the delayed publication of these reports.”

The Shadow Health Secretary then quoted a senior official in Monitor who had recently said: “We are being leaned on to delay them and I have a suspicion that the sensitivity would be less after the Tory party conference.”

Heidi Alexander declared: “It may be an inconvenient truth for the Health Secretary and his Ministers, but the public have the right to know what is going on and what the Government plan to do. People across the country depend on NHS services, and Labour Members will stand up for them.”

In the debate which followed, it was pointed out that comparable developed countries spend a substantially higher proportion of GDP on health than does England. In other words, the health service is substantially underfunded.

The SNP spokesperson on health asked: “Where are trusts meant to find staff if they are not allowed to use agency staff or nurses from overseas? Given that the deficit started to appear only in 2013 – after the Health and Social Care Act 2012 – does the Minister not feel that the Conservative party should review the direction of travel? The NHS was in balance from 2009 to 2013 and it has been on a downward slope ever since.”

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John McDonnell's speech to the Labour Party conference:

The Workers' Independent Thinking Is
Decisive in Changing the Economic Discourse

John McDonnell's speech to the Labour Party conference on September 28 gave an outline of the party's economic programme following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader and the subsequent appointment of McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor.

McDonnell's speech began by declaring that austerity is not a necessity but “a political choice”, and that there is an alternative.

Austerity is an anti-social economic agenda, an intensification of the neo-liberal offensive, in the conditions of the economic crisis and using the pretext of debt and deficit reduction, imposing monopoly right over public right, cutting investments in social programmes, stepping up the rate and scale of privatisation and directly and indirectly paying the rich. In opposition, the the workers' independent programme is encapsulated in the call to stop paying the rich and increase investments in social programmes.

McDonnell raised the issue of paying the rich, specifically mentioning the corporate welfare system. “There will be cuts to subsidies paid to companies that take the money and fail to provide the jobs. Cuts to the use of taxpayers money subsidising poverty paying bosses. Cuts to £13 billion tax breaks given to buy to let landlords for repairing their properties, whether they undertake the repairs or not.”

“We will halt the Conservative tax cuts to the wealthy paid for by cuts to families' income,” he said, and spoke about “addressing the scourge of tax evasion and avoidance”.

Related to this, he declared the intent to reduce income taxation on low to middle income workers. In this regard, it is significant that he also mentioned a review of tax and revenue.

“Institutional change has to reflect our policy change,” he said. “I want us to stand back and review the major institutions that are charged with managing our economy to check that they are fit for purpose and how they can be made more effective. As a start I have invited Lord Bob Kerslake, former head of the civil service, to bring together a team to review the operation of the Treasury itself. I will also be setting up a review of the Bank of England.”

A space exists here for the workers to take a lead on this issue from their own perspective. There is a need for the workers to seriously analyse the question of how the government raises its revenue and the alternative to personal income taxation and sales taxes.

From the workers' own perspective, individual taxation is outdated as a method of raising government revenue and must be superseded by new arrangements to directly claim revenue from where work in the economy is taking place. The issue of privatisation, which McDonnell did not mention in his conference speech, is closely related. The privatisation of state assets – public enterprises and services – deprives the government of a key source of potential revenue and allows the rich to directly benefit from the value created by those assets.

Seen in context, McDonnell's proposals are a break with the neo-liberal consensus and help give the workers room to manoeuvre in occupying the space for change over the issue of the direction of the economy and a say on how revenue is raised and spent.

McDonnell further took up the issue of the need for planning of the economy. Significantly, he stated the intent to transform the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills into “a powerful economic development department, in charge of public investment, infrastructure planning and setting new standards in the labour market”.

In this regard, he addressed the need to rebalance the economy. Criticising a “recovery based upon rising house prices, growing consumer credit, and inadequate reform of the financial sector” and an “imbalanced economy overwhelmingly reliant on insecure jobs in the service sector”, he spoke about the need to “strategically invest” in “key industries and sectors”.

Neo-liberalism has given rise to various schemes and arrangements for mobilising money for paying the rich to serve monopoly interests. Rather, a pro-social economy would instead mobilise money for investments in social programmes and development of the economy and productive forces. The need for this is reflected in McDonnell's proposal for a national investment bank and his mention of pursuing an “active monetary policy” and is another area into which the working class can bring its independent thinking.

Austerity has raised the profile of pay as a key political and not only economic demand, and McDonnell mentioned the plan to introduce a real living wage. This is an aspect of the more general demand for a national standard of livelihood from birth to death and the demand for the workers to have first claim on the value that they produce. Further, he raised the that “a successful and fair economy cannot be created without the full involvement of its workforce” and affirmed the importance of not only restoring trade union rights, but extending them “to ensure workers are involved in determining the future of their companies”. “We will promote modern alternative public, co-operative, worker-controlled and genuinely mutual forms of ownership,” he said.

Present throughout the speech was the need to settle scores with the capital-centred perspective and assumptions, and this is where the working class must develop its collective consciousness and bring this to bear in resolving this issue. This was manifested most clearly in the speech's reference to debt and deficit. In part this reflected the continuing struggle against the old forces within the party. Yet he also said that “we are opening up a national discussion on the reality of the roles of deficits, surpluses, long-term investment, debt and monetary policy”. So even here it could be said that there is a space for the working class to deal with the issue from its own standpoint.

As McDonnell put it, they are “embarking on the immense task of changing the economic discourse in this country”. These are first steps, and do represent a definite rejection of neo-liberalism. It is up to the working class to ensure that the discussion is deepened and its human-centred rather than capital-centred view of the socialised economy is what holds sway.

For Your Information:

The Labour Party's Economic Advisory Committee

On the day of his conference speech, John McDonnell established an Economic Advisory Committee to advise on the development and implementation of their economic programme. In his speech, the Shadow Chancellor announced the following names for the Committee [source: Wikipedia]:

Joseph Stiglitz

Joseph Stiglitz is an American economist and a professor at Columbia University. He served in the Clinton administration as the chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisors (1995-1997). He is a former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank (1997-2000), known for his critical view of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2001.

Mariana Mazzucato

Mariana Mazzucato is Professor in the Economics of Innovation at the University of Sussex, and author of The Entrepreneurial State. She is a member of the Scottish Government's Council of Economic Advisors, a member of the World Economic Forum's Council on the Economics of Innovation, and a permanent member of the European Commission's expert group on Innovation for Growth (RISE).

Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty is a professor (directeur d'études) at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and Centennial professor at the London School of Economics new International Inequalities Institute. He is the author of the recent book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which argues for reform of capitalism to prevent its collapse, proposing various forms of global wealth tax and income tax.

Ann Pettifor

Ann Pettifor is a Director of Policy Research in Macroeconomics (PRIME), Honorary Research Fellow at the Political Economy Research Centre at City University (CITYPERC) and a fellow of the New Economics Foundation, London. She was one of the leaders in the Jubilee 2000 debt campaign and an Executive Director of Advocacy International, which advises governments and organisations on matters relating to international finance and sustainable development. Since 2007, Ann Pettifor has been part of the Green New Deal Group, which advocates the environmental transformation of the economy.

Simon Wren-Lewis

Simon Wren-Lewis is a professor at Oxford University, conducting research in economic methodology, macroeconomic theory and policy, and international macroeconomics.

David Graham Blanchflower

David Graham Blanchflower is currently a tenured economics professor at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. He is also a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, part-time professor at the University of Stirling, Research Fellow at the Centre for Economic Studies at the University of Munich and (since 1999) the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) at the University of Bonn, and a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He was an external member of the Bank of England's interest rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) from June 2006 to June 2009.

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70th Anniversary of the Manchester Pan-African Congress

Last weekend marked the 70th anniversary of the famous Manchester Pan-African Congress. The Fifth Pan-African Congress held in Manchester from October 15-19, 1945, has been viewed as the most important of all the Pan-African congresses held by Africans and those in the African diaspora during the colonial period. It reflected the spirit of the times and the mass struggles that were occurring in Africa and the Caribbean for an end to colonial rule, for peoples’ empowerment and the right of all to determine their own future.

The Manchester Congress was held in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and the victory over fascism and reflected the aspirations of that time. It was a period when the working people of the world, led by the Soviet Union had demonstrated once again that they were the makers of history. Millions looked forward to a new world, without national, political and economic oppression, there was even a demand that the workers should take their place in the United Nations Security Council. The victory over fascism had created a new situation in the world. The war had severely weakened the old colonial powers such as Britain and France, while the Soviet Union had emerged as a world power and called for colonial independence to be one of the aims of the new UN. It is not surprising therefore that there were demands from the organisers of the Manchester Congress not just for political independence from colonial rule but also for a new world liberated from the imperialist system of states, which they saw as responsible for their oppression, as well as the cause of fascism, poverty and war.

The Manchester Congress also grew out of the mass anti-colonial struggles of the immediate pre-war period of the 1930s, when there were wide-scale strikes and anti-colonial rebellions throughout the Caribbean, as well as boycotts and protests of farmers and workers in many parts of Africa. At the end of the 1930s there was also a global movement in opposition to fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, which had been facilitated by the appeasement policies of Britain and France in particular. In Africa and the Caribbean protests had been especially militant and highly organised and are recognised as ushering in a new phase in the anti-colonial struggle. As the war came to a close new anti-colonial struggles broke out such as the general strike that occurred in Nigeria, Britain’s largest colony in Africa, in the summer of 1945.

One of the main features of the Manchester Congress was that all its participants were representatives of workers’ and farmers’ organisations in Britain’s colonies, “the masses” who were considered by the organisers to be those who would be at the forefront of the struggle to end colonial rule, by force if necessary. It therefore broke with previous gatherings that merely had the aim of lobbying the governments of Britain and the other big powers. The congress expressed its opposition to the “monopoly of capital” and the imposition of Eurocentric values and political institutions in the colonies. It also condemned the colonial borders that had been imposed on African states.

Above all the Manchester Congress reflected an internationalist spirit with its espousal of such slogans as “oppressed people of the world unite”, and “labour in the white skin cannot emancipate itself while labour in the black skin is enslaved”. Several of the participants had attended the recent founding conferences of the World Federation of Trade Unions, where they had played a significant role. Even before the Manchester Congress, the organisers had participated in convening two “Subject Peoples” conferences in London, alongside anti-colonial activists from India, Ceylon and Burma and workers’ and progressive organisations in Britain. At the congress itself solidarity messages were sent to the “struggling peoples of Indonesia and Vietnam”, the “toiling masses of India”, as well as “people of African descent” in the United States.

The Manchester Congress was able to give a voice to the voiceless, to articulate many of the demands for liberation being made in Africa and the Caribbean. At the same time it did not neglect racism and the problems faced by those of African and Caribbean heritage in Britain. It summed up the experience of all those struggling for an end to colonial rule and drew important lessons from that experience. It pointed to the need for the organisation of the masses of the people in order to usher in a new world in Africa and other colonies and indicated that a truly independent Africa would need to be one built around the interests of the majority, with a new political and economic system and borders based on rights and needs of the peoples of Africa, not those bequeathed by the colonial invaders. The Manchester Congress therefore condemned the “rule of private wealth and industry for private profit”, and demanded “genuine independence” and the “right of all peoples to govern themselves”.

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