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Ian Burge

Hospital Workers

Stop Cuts Save Jobs

(Late 1976)

Militant, a special pamphlet, 1976
N.B. Pamphlet includes report of TUC conference 1976 so must be September or later
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The East End of London faces vicious cuts in the National Health Service; Health workers and patients are both threatened. By all health and social indices the area is one of the worst off in the country and already has a raw deal as far as the provision of health facilities is concerned. Many of the hospitals, usually old workhouses, really deserve tearing down but they do at least provide something at the moment.

Already, over the past year we have been faced with the problem of fighting the cuts, and a certain amount of consolidation has been taking place in our union organisation.

Union Committees

One of the basic problems facing hospital workers is that there are too many unions in the health service, and this does mean difficulties in getting together a good joint union policy, essential if the top management is not to be able to play one section off against another. The best step is to set up a joint shop stewards committee. There are many good reasons for such a committee to exist anyway, but if necessary it should initially be formed as a joint defence committee against cuts.

One of the first jobs of the committee should be to attempt to compile all the available information on cuts so far made. The management should be asked what they consider are the minimum staffing establishments and vacancies, when these figures are not known. All Health Authorities are now supposed to publish detailed plans.

Unions and stewards ought to be getting copies automatically, but where this is not done, then the committee should demand copies. Taken together all the obtainable information should present a fairly clear picture of where cuts are planned.

But quite apart from any management figures, the shop stewards should draw up and maintain a list of what they consider are the staffing needs. We should not just fight the cuts, we should continue the fight to improve our conditions and the services that we help provide.

A certain confusion exists among some health workers in their attitude to the cuts.

It is wrong to accept the principle that cuts need to be made. The truth is that the health service is sadly undermanned, desperately in need of modern hospitals and funds to replace old equipment. The health service needs expansion. It is important to resist cuts completely at every level. If this is not done there will always be arguments about which staff should go, and which should stay.

For example, a number of stewards at our hospital rightly pointed out that the growth areas in staff appeared to them mainly in Administration. Figures available bear this out. But it is wrong to then argue that admin staff should therefore be cut in preference to other sections. It is the ordinary clerks and such like that will suffer.

Almost 80% of costs in the health services are wages and salaries, and jobs are the quickest ways of making savings. As an absolute minimum, some inter-union committees have demanded that every “saving” is negotiated, but it is better still that such “savings” are rejected out of hand.

The way to build for militant action is by ensuring that all members are fully informed about the cuts and plans. Bulletins should be regularly distributed, and plenty of meetings held so that a full discussion takes place on the shop floor.

Last resort

Health workers have always had a responsible attitude to the patients when involved in industrial action. Only when they have become desperate will they strike, as a last resort.

If Government policy requires cuts in health services then it is they who are responsible for any harmful effects on the patients resulting from the implementation of the cuts. The health workers are not only acting in their own interest as far as jobs are concerned, they are also acting for the working class as a whole.

The main point in the recent strikes in London was to bring the facts before the workers who use the health services and thereby appeal for their support in the campaign.

Health union branches must bring the facts before the Trades Councils who should be mobilising the local unions in support and the Labour Parties who should be bombarding the government with demands for implementation of conference decisions on health and the pharmaceutical industry.

The East London health workers have been linking up through area wide shop stewards meetings. But the organisational difficulty of bringing together stewards from about 25 different hospitals and other sections of health services, and nine different unions, are not inconsiderable.

The stewards committees will be faced with problems of organising local resistance to closures, and occupations have already been seriously discussed in relation to the Elizabeth Garret Anderson Hospital and also the Metropolitan Hospital in Hackney.

The main orientation of any such demonstrations must be to get public support against the closures.

The way forward for the health workers is to campaign in all sections of the labour movement against the present policies of the government. A number of demands specific to the health service need to be taken up, as part of explaining the effects of the cuts, and of putting forward alternative policies which can be taken up in the movement.

Reverse the Cuts;
For full manning and equipping of all services;
Renovation of all old buildings, and construction of new Hospitals;
Replacement before closures;
Democratic workers’ control and management of the NHS;
Living wage for 35 hour week;
100% trade unionism in NHS;
Towards a single Health Union;
Abolish private practice;
Abolish all health charges;
Nationalise the Pharmaceuticals;
Take over the commanding heights of the economy;
For a Socialist Planned Economy.

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Last updated: 10 July 2017