|Volume 53 Number 23, August 5, 2023
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
NHS sets out plans for winter:
Government Continues to Drive NHS Further into Crisis To Pay the Rich
Keep Ticket Offices Open!
US Out of Asia Pacific!:
US Nuclear Armed Sub Sent to Threaten Democratic People's Republic of Korea
In February, over 100,000 teachers in England and Wales initiated their largest wave of action in 30 years, holding eight days of strikes between February and July. Unions were demanding a fully funded pay increase due to rising inflation and ten years' worth of real-terms pay cuts. As well as a pay level that has fallen 23% in real terms since 2010, leaving some teachers in desperate conditions, teachers cited excessive workload, rising class sizes, access to support for special educational needs, a crisis in recruitment and retention of staff, schools that are in a state of disrepair to the point of real danger, and so on. Another issue has been the system of inspections carried out by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).
The largest union representing teachers was the National Education Union (NEU). The Teachers' Union NASUWT and school leaders from the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) also joined the strikes for the first time in the current dispute. It is the first time in its 125-year history that NAHT members have taken strike action over pay.
As the NEU explains , on July 13, the government published the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) report on teachers' pay, recommending a 6.5% pay rise from September. The government has finally conceded to fully implementing the STRB recommendation. NEU, ASCL, NAHT and NASUWT members have now voted to accept the progress made and end industrial action, says the NEU.
The agreement stands for one year. It will be funded from external sources, as demanded by teachers. It is the unwavering strike action that forced the government to increase its offer, having initially rejected the STRB recommendations, and spend an extra £900 million to fund it and protect support staff jobs. However, it is important to note that salaries have not met the required level, so that the issue remains ultimately unresolved.
Following the agreement, Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union, said:
"The NEU submissions to the STRB went a long way towards changing the government's position on pay and funding. The strike action taken by our members also shifted the dial, securing the highest pay award for over thirty years. Members should be proud they have also secured extra funding for schools.
"The engagement of members over pay has been high throughout this campaign, and our decisions have been led by them at every turn. The re-ballot for strike action comfortably passed the government's highly restrictive thresholds. ...
"The government should be in no doubt that we will hold its feet to the fire on delivering for teachers and support staff on workload and funding and continue to represent the profession in future STRB consultations. It remains the view of the NEU that school and college funding is far from adequate. It remains a commitment of the NEU to campaign for further increases in teacher pay.
"Everyone in the school and colleges community deserves an education system that attracts and keeps teaching staff, and one that ensures every child gets the attention and support they deserve. Our campaign for a better-funded education system will not go away."
Throughout, teachers faced a refusal to negotiate, imposition, and attempts from the government to eliminate any say. They held the line in this offensive, remaining united in self-defence to assert their No! to dictate, speaking out about their conditions and refusing to be silenced. A challenge facing the workers' movement as a whole is how to organise itself further so that it can put the justice of its cause into play to favour its own interests. A realisation has emerged that conditions have changed and that working people must act in new ways.
The strikes highlighted the importance of workers exercising their role in empowerment, control, and decision-making. Teachers had to put their organisations' weight behind their demands and establish talks and negotiations. The struggle for control over the future of education has opened up various key questions, but decisions at present remain firmly in the hands of elite powers and their government. The struggle for teachers having a say over education and their conditions is still ongoing. The solution to the crisis lies with teachers themselves, and forms can and must be found to empower them to discuss and provide those solutions.
The struggle for a properly funded and modern education system has been ongoing for years, with teachers questioning the future of education that is being underfunded and undermined. People demand better schools and teachers' pay, and the crisis in staff recruitment must be reversed. It is crucial to stop servicing and paying the rich, so that the necessary funding can be found to fully-fund vital services and social programmes like education.
The crisis has exposed the importance of the future of education and the need for a solution that lies with the teachers themselves. These strikes have shown that teachers and the public alike are not willing to support cutbacks in education funding, which will not solve problems and ensure decent education is delivered as a right. Teachers and parents demand education as a right, as crucial to nurturing the modern human being.
Everyone has the right to the highest standard of education, and the paramount issue is how society should be organised to fulfil that right. Education itself plays a role in forming the conception that people have rights by virtue of being human. While the outcome of the recent strike struggle meets some demands, the wider need to meet the material and cultural requirements of the entire population remains on the agenda.
Teachers need to be recruited to the proper levels, with the appropriate support of auxiliary staff and assistants. They should be a decisive voice in determining how schools are run on behalf of the general population, not mixed up with narrow private interests that now permeate the system through arrangements such as Academies. A modern educational authority should have the aim of funding and facilitating the provision and development of education through the experience of the educators themselves. The curriculum should be decided based on who it serves and the needs and future of society.
A whole change of direction is required, away from the capital-centred and towards a human-centred education system. Education is at the heart of a new society, organised on the basis of guaranteeing the rights of all and their material and cultural needs, as well as allowing workers to control their lives and livelihoods. This is what poses itself in terms of education's unique relevance to the future of a society based upon developing and releasing the human factor and social consciousness. It is a world apart from the Old, as represented by the Department of Education, Ofsted, and their conception of "deliverology".
Society is facing a critical situation with increasing educational demands, including pressures on teachers, diminishing staff, pension attacks, poor salaries, and rising living costs. The decline of schools and colleges, lack of resources and funding, and media and Westminster politicians' slanderous behaviour are contributing factors to this dangerous catastrophe in the making. The teachers are preparing the strategy and tactics of their impending struggle as the government and the elite continue to prepare their attacks with destructive consequences. Teachers are dealing with the future of education right now. In declaring Enough is Enough, they are posing the alternative direction in which society must go.
This has been a year of real achievement for the teachers, and Workers' Weekly congratulates them on these achievements and their persistence in bringing about a resolution which favours them. It doesn't stop here. It is a year that can be built on in the future, with their recent struggles highlighting the importance of workers exercising their role for empowerment, control, and decision-making. Teachers will be ready to take the struggle for the future of education, and education as right, into a new phase.
 "Pay offer consultation results", NEU, July 31, 2023
At an NHS England board meeting in Birmingham on July 27, plans were announced to prepare for the extra strain on the NHS in the coming winter . The new measures of the winter plan are, in the words of NHS England, a "new scheme to encourage local teams to 'overachieve' on performance measures with financial incentives provided for these areas".
Last winter, more than 500 excess deaths a week were estimated to be linked to long waiting times, with a record number of patients spending more than 12 hours in A&E, huge delays in ambulance response times and delays for vital treatment. Because of these facts and the opposition they have faced from medical staff and people, the government and its NHS England have been forced to release plans, which they claim will address the current increase in excess deaths and the winter pressures coming up. Health minister Helen Whately claimed: "Our urgent and emergency care recovery plan, backed by record funding, is already improving performance and ambulance response times. Thanks to that plan, the NHS is getting 800 new ambulances, 5,000 extra hospital beds, and 10,000 virtual ward beds."
Speaking to The Independent  this week Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) rejected the scale and credibility of these plans when he warned that "at least 11,000 additional staffed beds should be provided at hospitals across the country, while the prime minister has only pledged 5,000". He said that the inadequate provision could see thousands of people die needlessly this year. He continued, "If you just look at the figures, all the indicators of our target performance, 12-hour waits in hospital, are all going the wrong way. If we compare them to what was going on at the same time a year ago, it makes me anxious that we are heading towards a worse winter than we just had." He said that the government was "blithely sailing towards an iceberg", and that if it allows this winter to be as bad as the last, "it will break the very people who keep this broken system creaking along". Dr Boyle concluded to The Independent that he has "little confidence" that the government's new plan will "prevent queues of ambulances outside of hospitals, or the shameful sight of patients waiting for hours on trolleys in the corridors in A&Es [that are] full to bursting".
These days what is becoming clear to more and more people is that the government, with little opposition in Parliament, is driving the NHS health care system into a deeper and deeper crisis causing thousands of excess deaths as people are unable to access vital health care services when and where they need them.
It is well known how Boris Johnson's government in 2019 made many promises as part of its electioneering such as building 40 new hospitals in 2020. As then, so now, it is impossible to give credibility to the government's claims that its "robust new measures ... will boost capacity and resilience across the NHS as well as building on the recent improvements in ambulance response times and A&E performance". Health professionals are rightly saying that extra beds need extra staff which the NHS no longer has. What must be also pointed out is that this announcement is another good pretext for government to grease the hands of the private health companies as they did in the pandemic, when such beds were hardly used at huge costs for these private hospital contracts.
The crisis in the NHS is one that has been caused by long-term corporate driven austerity cuts within the state controlled NHS, and its fragmentation into Trusts and other bodies. Such cuts have been incentivised and hidden in year-on-year "Cost Improvement Programmes (CIPs)" and other ring-fenced mechanisms to "balance the books". This is all designed to drive a corporate focus to health care rather than a focus on human-centred health care provision. It is this that has driven the programme of closures of acute and community health and mental health services and the distancing of these services from local towns and communities and the unacceptable and life-threatening long waits people are now experiencing. It has also driven the crisis of underinvestment in health staff pay, training and retention, and the complete undermining of their well-being especially over recent years.
Further, on top of this restructuring of the NHS, there is the government's scandalous privatisation programme of the most profitable, diagnostic and routine acute services aimed at making people pay for these profits in one way or another, now and in the future. This is a direction that can only be described as one of wrecking the universal public health care system and the human resources who provide these services in favour of their system of paying the rich.
Consequences of the Crisis in the NHS
Marking the 75th anniversary of the NHS on July 5 this year, Health Campaigns Together (HCT), a newspaper representing many health campaigns and trade unions across the country, whilst celebrating the NHS achievements, examined the drastic consequences of the crisis in the health system . HCT pointed out: "People are dying because of political choices. Austerity is responsible for 335,000 excess deaths 2012-2019. A degraded and underfunded NHS could not cope during Covid and is now the cause of up to 500 deaths per week from delays in emergency care alone."
In exposing the "Integrated Care Boards" that the government put in place last year, HCT says that "from July  to February , nearly 2,900 private companies received over £3.9 billion directly from 40 ICBs, as shown by available monthly spending reports". As one among many similar examples, Circle Health, notorious for the failed takeover of Hinchinbrooke Hospital in 2012, is now owned by the US giant Centene Corporation specialising in "health insurance and managed health care". Circle also benefited in profitable contracts from the under-utilisation of private hospital capacity block-booked for Covid in 2020. In September 2022, this US company agreed to pay Texas $165.6 million to settle allegations that the company overcharged the Medicaid  programme for pharmacy benefit management services. Similar large claims were settled earlier with the US government, the state of Washington and at least nine other states. When Centene took its initial 40% stake in Circle back in January 2020, the CEO was Samantha Jones. She was later appointed as Boris Johnson's Chief Operating Officer and has now been appointed as a non-executive director at the Department of Health and Social Care. In this way the government is continuing to import into the NHS the same corruption perpetrated by these US companies to Britain.
Speaking Out to Change the Direction of the NHS
These days what is also becoming clear is that more and more people are speaking out, including the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, health campaigns and especially health staff and their trade unions. They are not going to accept this situation in a modern society where such a crisis in the NHS is being imposed by the powers-that-be. People are continuing to take matters into their own hands and, very importantly, to organise in their communities to defend their hospitals, and their health and mental health services. People are asserting the rights of all to health care and timely access to that health care in and around their communities, towns and cities.
As HCT puts it, the call is for the NHS "to be built back and built stronger" with an "end to feeding the private parasite eating away at the heart of the NHS; reclaim that wasted funding and reinvest it into rebuilding public services and safe staffing".
A modern society requires a thriving health service in order to function. The situation where narrow private interests take pride of place is wrecking the NHS. This must be opposed, with everyone concerned in England, Scotland and Wales continuing their fight alongside health workers who are also in the forefront in the fight to safeguard the future on the NHS. They must set their own agenda to reverse the crisis in the NHS. The demand is for a new direction for a publicly-owned human centred health care system where they decide. In essence, the fight is to change the direction, as part of changing the direction of the economy and the society. By speaking out and taking a stand, people must empower themselves, especially health workers when it comes to the NHS, and recognise that to do so is part of bringing about a new situation. The voice of health workers must be heard!
1. NHS sets out plans for winter with new measures to help speed up discharge for patients and improve care
2. The Independent. A chilling warning from Britain's most senior A&E doctor: Tory winter plan could kill thousands
3. Health Campaigns Together Special issue summer 2023
4. Medicaid is a US government programme that provides some health insurance for adults and children with limited income and resources and who qualify for its aid.
Ticket office closure consultations, which were due to close on July 26 after just a 21-day consultation period, will now be extended until September 1.
Campaigning by RMT members and activists in conjunction with disabled peoples' groups, passenger groups, politicians and others has undoubtedly forced the government and train companies' hand, states the National Union of Rail Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT). Under the original timescales they wanted this process completed by the end of August.
Transport Focus have confirmed that over 170,000 consultation responses have already been received. The campaign will now be ramped up over the coming weeks to maximise public opposition to the closure proposals. When the consultations close on September 1, there will be a 35-day period during which Transport Focus and London Travelwatch review the consultation responses. At the end of this period, they can either object or accept the operators' proposals. Where Transport Focus and London Travelwatch object to closures, and the train company still wishes to proceed, it will then be referred to the Secretary of State for a decision. As is well known, the government has been vocal in its support for ticket office closures.
A group of Labour metro mayors is mounting a legal challenge, and there is also a legal challenge by disabled passengers.
Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the RMT, has said: "Make no mistake, whilst it is clear that the consultations have only been extended as a result of the pressure arising from our campaign, this is not enough. Our campaign to protect all ticket offices must now intensify and our message to the government and train companies is clear - these proposals are bad for passenger safety, security, accessibility and bad for staff. They must abandon all of these damaging proposals once and for all."
Korean Peace Action
A US strategic nuclear ballistic missile submarine - the USS Kentucky - provided a recent display in the southeastern city of Busan, south Korea, of provocation and outright threat of complete annihilation against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). The USS Kentucky carries some 20 Trident-II D5 ballistic missiles, each armed with multiple nuclear warheads that have a range of 12,000 kilometres. Its presence follows recent overflights by B-52 strategic bombers and spy flights which flagrantly violated DPRK sovereign air space.
South Korean President Yoon made the threat clear. Referencing the inaugural meeting of the Nuclear Consultative Group, July 18, Yoon said that the presence of the USS Kentucky was calculated to put the DPRK on notice and that the US has the capability to militarily "end its regime".
The DPRK issued a statement on July 17 concerning the seriousness of the situation, with the US and its puppet regime in the south openly talking about the prospect of nuclear war. "The present situation on the Korean Peninsula has reached such a phase that the possibility of an actual armed conflict and even the outbreak of a nuclear war is debated, going far beyond the phase of acute confrontation between the DPRK and the US created in 2017."
The statement, issued by the vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, Kim Yo Jong, pointed out that the US is solely responsible for the serious situation on the Korean Peninsula. She said that the DPRK is not fooled by US protestations that it is for "negotiations" without preconditions; the DPRK is wise to the whole gamut of US tricks. The reality before the DPRK, the statement points out, is not dialogue, as repeatedly touted by the US like an ATM machine. Kim Yo Jong said that the reality is rather "the nuclear strategic bomber flying near the DPRK regardless of time, the air espionage of the US violating our territorial sovereignty, the convocation of the 'Nuclear Consultative Group' openly discussing the use of nukes against the DPRK, and the entry of a US strategic nuclear submarine into the waters of the Korean Peninsula for the first time in 40-odd years. The US should know that its bolstered extended deterrence system and excessively extended military alliance system - a threatening entity - will only make the DPRK go farther away from the negotiating table desired by it."
"The most appropriate way for ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," the statement said, "is to deter the US high-handed and arbitrary practices in the position of might and with sufficient exercise of power, rather than solving the problem with the gangster-like Americans in a friendly manner."
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