I attended a Unite study day for London NHS reps yesterday. This was a practical day to look at how we can build the campaign to defend the NHS – a follow-up to a previous event held last month. I posted on last month’s event here: https://gillgeorge.wordpress.com/2008/02/15/a-study-day-for-resistance/ . Yesterday’s meeting was lower key, but a useful problem solving day – and an opportunity to review what we’ve been able to achieve over the last month.
We’re moving in the right direction. The London Regional Council has agreed that health is a campaign priority, and is working with London Health Emergency to produce a broadsheet on the current attacks on the NHS and how we should respond. The intention is to send a bundle of ‘NHS Specials’ to every rep in London. The TGWU Regional Committee has agreed to support this initiative – so we can get material out to every rep in London, whatever industry they’re in, and whether they’re Amicus or T&G. This is an effective way of extending the campaign beyond the ranks of health workers, and using the wider opportunities that a large general union can offer us.
We’ve agreed and submitted a robust response on Darzi’s plans for London – written primarily by me, with input from other lay colleagues. This is a politically important response. Darzi’s proposals reflect the Government’s priorities for the NHS. The plans are about driving forward the privatisation and fragmentation of health services in London. It’s good to see the Union prepared to cut through all the rhetoric about ‘world class healthcare’ and expose the shoddy realities that underpin the hype.
We have a ‘pathology roadshow’ coming up – a day for pathology reps to get together and plan their response to the threats of privatisation and job loss facing this group of our members in London.
There are other initiatives we discussed today that need further work. We’ll be producing a practical guide for reps on how to challenge employers, how to build organisation at work, and what they need to be thinking about over campaign initiatives. We’re pushing for more hands-on support for reps on the ground, with increased officer and organiser support. We talked about specific initiatives to support reps around punitive sickness absence policies, the misuse of suspension, and about the way clinical staff are being used as scapegoats – disciplined for non-existent or trivial offences, apparently as a tool to keep the wider workforce intimidated and too scared to challenge ‘reform’.
We talked about the need to lobby MPs. Some reps were so furious about the contemptuous response we received at a meeting with MPs a year or two ago that they felt there was no point repeating the exercise. Most thought we couldn’t let them off the hook – and that we need to put real pressure on them to wake up and notice the catastrophic harm that they and their Government are inflicting on the NHS.
We’re also aiming for high-profile initiatives over the NHS 60th birthday – a good opportunity to build the campaign to defend the NHS, and to make the links between trade unionists and wider community campaigns.
Are things perfect? No, of course not. We’re facing massive threats from a Government that’s hell-bent on dismantling the NHS. Many of our reps are exhausted and ground down by what can feel like a never-ending onslaught. Our members are under attack on an unprecedented scale.
BUT – we still have an NHS, and it’s still absolutely worth defending. It’s good to see Unite, in London Region, taking real steps to turn our paper policies on the NHS into something more meaningful.