On Saturday 30 January the Health Campaigns Together took a very positive step forward for the movement to save the health service. Against a backdrop of junior doctors’ and student nurses’ struggles opening up new possibilities for a fight, about 200 people came together from a wide variety of local and national campaigns.
Most were older NHS campaigners, but there was a good number of junior doctors and trainee health workers too, bringing something new and distinctive. Many of the established activists gave excellent speeches and made useful proposals. The NHS industrial disputes, the turn in the Labour Party and the uniting of health campaigns in HCT after a period of fragmentation have all put new wind in health campaigners’ sails, much need given the Tories’ accelerating assault.
HCT’s next organising meeting is on Saturday 20 February at Unite HQ in Holborn. The campaign is planning a national day of action in support of the NHS Bill (previously the NHS Reinstatement Bill) when it returns to Parliament on 11 March.
We need to argue for a strong collective focus on building national campaigns and action, as well as exchanging information and coordinating on local issues; the day of action is a good step. There were ways the conference could have been improved. There were too many top table speakers (though quite a bit of time for discussion) and the workshop themes/titles were very bland. Because HCT has some funding from the unions, at least one top union bureaucrat spoke, giving a contentless speech which, judging by what she said outside afterwards, was cover for utter defeatism. There also could have been more focus on pro-actively pressuring the Labour Party.
That theme was raised by a well organised team of Momentum NHS supporters, who made a solid impact at the conference, intervening in discussions, eliciting a lot of interest and collecting contact details from many campaigners who want to take up this work. Momentum NHS held a fringe meeting with Jill Mountford from the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign and junior doctor and BMA activist Yannis Gourtsoyannis speaking. Despite clashing with a demonstration in support of the GPs, we got 50 people, from across the country, with a good number of doctors and NHS workers, and had an excellent and productive discussion.
Momentum NHS is launching a number of campaigning initiatives, starting with a very widely supported statement against the proposal for a “cross-party commission” to gloss up NHS privatisation and prevent Labour from taking a clear stance. The next step is a fight to win clear and pro-active Labour support for the NHS Bill. The campaign’s next organising meeting is also on 20 February, immediately after the HCT meeting.