|Volume 53 Number 28, October 7, 2023
For a new direction for society, not the old!
The 2023 Conservative Party Conference took place over four days from Sunday, October 1, to Wednesday, October 4. Thousands of NHS staff - including junior doctors and consultants who continued their joint strike action during that week from October 2-4, and radiographers who were striking on October 2 and 3 - demonstrated in Manchester on October 3, to speak out and speak in their own name in opposition to the conference and the Sunak government. Demonstrators assembled at Peter's Square in the centre of the city at 1pm for a rally outside of the conference. Striking health workers at Barts NHS Trust also protested at the Royal London Hospital on October 4 .
The week was also marked by extensive rail strikes. These and the doctors' strikes in particular have been under attack by the government. Health Secretary Steve Barclay has threatened the main doctors' union, the BMA, with the use of the enhanced police powers recently created by the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023, which received Royal Asset on July 20. This Act enables employers to issue a "work notice" specifying who would be required to work by law during a strike .
The Strikes Act is one more feature of the profound disequilibrium in the social relation between employer and employed that exists at this time. The doctors themselves were targeting the conference for the very reason that the government is refusing to discuss key issues such as pay in their dispute, instead imposing their "final offer" .
Various other protests and actions were organised over the period of the conference. A National Demonstration was organised by the People's Assembly on its first day, marching from All Saints Park on Manchester's Oxford Road at 12 noon, past the conference centre, to a rally at Castlefield Bowl. Despite the rain, the broad demonstration brought many thousands of trade unionists, students, campaigners and concerned individuals together to make their voices heard over issues such as the cost-of-living crisis, war, climate change, racism, and defence of the rights of all. A Festival of Resistance was also held in Piccadilly Gardens over October 2-5.
The Conservative Party Conference, the eighth held in Manchester since 2009, was marked by a heavy police presence. The centre of the city was militarised for its duration, with fences erected and roads closed to form "rings of steel" at the Manchester Central conference centre and other key locations. Hundreds of police officers, both armed and unarmed, patrolled the area, while snipers were positioned on rooftops.
A number of incidents of police harassment were reported. In one case, police stopped a coach carrying protesters from London. According to an eyewitness onboard, the coach was surrounded by at least thirty officers who claimed they had intelligence of illegally using items to disrupt the conference. Only one person was searched, a young Asian woman, and no arrests were made or anyone detained .
The spirit of the demonstrations during the conference was that of "Enough is Enough", reflected in calls to remove the Conservatives from power. This call is not something reducible to a change of horses, which in the conditions of the present simply means a different faction of the cartel party system claiming power for itself on behalf of the same oligarchic private interests. At essence, it is a call for a new political mechanism that directly embodies the popular will, a will for a new, human-centred direction for the NHS and all social programmes, and an economy that has meeting the needs of society as its primary aim.
In the doctors' dispute especially, the government has forced the issue of Who Decides. The struggle reveals that the solutions to the problems in the NHS lie with the health workers themselves. The fight they are taking up is as much to do with ending their marginalisation as it is immediately about pay, beginning with speaking out, smashing the silence on their working conditions - which are also the patients' conditions - and refusing to be ignored. They are aiming at a new situation where decision-making involves doctors, nurses and all health workers, along with communities and people as a whole, speaking and acting in their own name and as one, without the mechanisms of disempowerment blocking their direct decisions from being realised.
1. "Striking doctors & radiographers march on Tory Party Conference", National Shop Stewards Network
2. The recent TUC Congress passed a motion to pledge "100% solidarity with any trade unions attacked under these MSL laws", and which calls for a repeal of this and previous anti-union laws.
"C01 Campaign against the Minimum Service Levels (MSLs) legislation", TUC Congress Motions
3. "Uniting for the Future of the Health Service: Consultants and Junior Doctors to Hold Joint Strike Action", Workers' Weekly, September 23, 2023
4. "The cops can't stop us: thousands march in Manchester against the Tories", Shabbir Lakha, Counterfire, October 2, 202