If Nye Bevan’s famous statement the NHS will last as long as there are folk with the faith to fight for it is anything to go by, then the NHS is far from being finished in Greater Manchester. Stephen Hall of GMATUC
On Saturday 16 February more than a hundred activists gathered at the Friends Meeting House in Manchester to discuss the crisis facing the NHS. Although organised by the Greater Manchester Association of Trades Union Councils, it was much broader than the trade union movement in terms of the individuals and groups who turned up to the meeting. In her opening speech one of conference organisers, Pia Feig, outlined the scale of the health emergency; It is a wholesale assault on the welfare state. We need to organise a fightback against the cuts, at a local, regional and national level.
Dr. John Lister of the Health Emergency Campaign stressed the importance of a united campaign and told the meeting about how thousands of people had demonstrated in Lewisham against the closure of their A&E. The campaign in London was broad-based including councils such as Ealing, as well as the trade unions. John said that; the priority is to keep services alive and to push every button to mobilise individuals and groups. He believed that the Tory Government was worse than Thatcher in its determination to tear up the legislation that had set up the NHS in 1946. He said: We have to defend services and make them fit for purpose.
Karen Reissman, of the Save Bolton A&E Campaign, explained how the cuts were affecting her hospital. Five hundred staff are at risk of losing their jobs. That means five hundred people not working in our hospital will seriously compromise the health of local people. In Bolton 30,000 people have signed a petition to oppose the cuts and had joined the healthworkers in the campaign to save the A&E. Karen told the meeting that in Mid-Yorkshire the healthworkers have gone on strike over the cuts and she encouraged people to send messages of support to the strikers. For further details on this strike see
In the workshops a variety of individuals and groups spoke about their own local activity. Jo Harding, of the Save Trafford Hospital Campaign, told participants how their campaign started with just two people and that regular street stalls and petitioning had galvanised the local community in a high profile and positive campaign. She said that the petition was the most powerful tool in raising public awareness and it was the first time that people found out about what was really happening. Every week campaign members went out to towns across the borough to do street stalls and challenge the blatant lies that the officials were putting out. They had put the petition on the internet and, whilst recognising that this was a good way of contacting some people, it did not have the impact that talking to people face to face had.
Some people had become organised through the internet based lobby group 38 Degrees. Speakers from Stockport, Bury and Salford explained how they had become active by signing petitions through 38 Degrees and were now involved in work on the local Clinical Commissioning Groups. A representative from Manchester University told the meeting how he had taken a one year sabbatical from his medical degree to run their campaign to Save the NHS.
Several members of Unison members were at the meeting and they spoke about the atmosphere within the hospitals and the difficulties of union activity when £20 billion worth of cuts were being demanded by the Tory government. They felt it was important to join with the public in order to build up a campaign to challenge both the cuts in jobs and defend the service.
The conference ended with a variety of activities being planned, including linking up with other campaigns for a week of action in May, helping other people to organise local campaigns across Greater Manchester, and building up contacts with other campaigns that are facing cuts, including the Fire Brigades Union.
Pia Feig summed up the day: I think the best thing that came out of the conference and it was timely, was that it brought together people who are organising in a small way and they could meet with people from their area and share resources, and create informal networks where people can decide what is the best thing to do in their locality. For the Unison members who attended I think it showed them that there are people outside the NHS who want to work with them and it will boost their confidence in defending the service from the inside.
Thursday 28 Feb, 7pm,
room G1 at the Friends Meeting House,
6 Mount St., Manchester city centre
Room booked as “GMATUC / Keep Our NHS Public”.
Andy Burnham has agreed to speak at a public meeting on
Friday 8th March 6pm Bolton Town Hall.
The Staff Side Committee of Bolton Royal Infirmary have agreed to host the meeting (after meeting local MPs, who are all on board).
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