Archive | March, 2012

It’s up to us to save the NHS

15 Mar

I’ve been thinking and worrying obsessively about the NHS for the last week – I thought I’d get out some of my thoughts and highlight the action we can take.

The stark reality – which the mainstream media are doing a terrible job of conveying to the public – is that our NHS will soon become privatised under Langsley’s Health and Social Care Bill. Our much loved and world class health care system which is free to all who need it will become a greatly diminished service which will charge and exclude people. In fact, the privatization ‘reforms’ are already being snuck through by the government – something which is completely unconstitutional. Just because little chip and pin machines aren’t emerging on the desk of your GP or beside hospital beds doesn’t mean that significant changes are not already underway. The government are being deliberately sly – they are determined to serve up our NHS to the corporate vultures flocking overheard (watch this video here to see the close proximity that private health companies have with politicians – but they are clearly scared of the public reaction to this.

There has been huge opposition to this bill. I lost count long ago of the number of medical bodies who have voted against and spoken out against the bill. The general public too have been incredibly vocal and active. There have been numerous petitions. There has been lobbying of MPs and Lords. There was the wonderful Block the Bridge action by UK Uncut last year in which thousands gathered in an act of mass civil disobedience to stop the bill. And yet the government ploughs ahead, showing their utter contempt for democracy – and our health.

Now the situation feels incredibly urgent. The Bill goes for its third and final reading – a final chance to amend the bill (not good enough, we want it dropped) – on Monday 19th March after which there will be ‘consideration of amendments’. After this it will receive Royal Assent. There is the slim possibility that in her busy Jubilee year, the Queen simply will not have the time to give it her royal stamp, or whatever she does – however we should not count on this. Many people are aware that we need to do more to stop the bill, but we’re not sure what. I don’t claim to have any answers, but from reviewing the present landscape, there are things that are becoming strikingly obvious that may help us in our task. The main point is is that it is up to us to save the NHS. This sounds like a daunting task, but it’s the reality and it is possible. No other large bodies or groups (apart from Keep Our NHS Public) are up to the task – it’s all about people power now.

The politicians are more interested in the money of private healthcare providers than our appeals to them. Unless we really scare them by taking to the streets and looking really angry.

The unions have done nothing. Apparently they are worried that if they were to speak out to save the NHS the public will think they are only acting in the interests of their members. Well, they’re unions, of course they should be protecting their members, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t also speak out when a wonderful public asset is being destroyed. The unions should get some guts.

38 degrees is an incredibly popular campaign group that promises ‘people.power.change’  (and an excessive use of full stops) however, their idea of people.power.change seems to involve raising lots of money from their members in a short space of time to put up big posters and then ignore their members when they call for 38 degrees to call for a march. I just received an email from them in which they lie that ‘we’ve tried pretty much everything’. They are actively disempowering their members by suggesting that the only ways to achieve change are through online petitions, and if these don’t work, oh well. Disenchanted 38 degrees members, you can still take to the streets – we’ve arranged our own demonstration this Saturday 17th March. It is your time, energy, and money that basically runs 38 degrees, so just channel this into actions up and down the country instead of the 38 degrees website.

Ben Goldacre tweeted that we should do everything to stop the NHS bill, suggesting we even defecate on our MPs lawns. Yet, despite this helpful suggestion, when someone tweeted him about the Saturday NHS demo – he simply tweeted back asking who had arranged it, and promptly ignored other tweets from his numerous followers requesting a retweet for the demo. What’s his issue? Why call for action and then ignore the actions when they’re there? *Cough* hypocrite.

So basically, that leaves us, the public to organise and take action ourselves. Perhaps singling out the groups and people above who have failed to act seems a bit brutal, but it’s just to save us time from appealing to them and to encourage us to work together which will be much more fruitful.

There are loads of thing that we can do together to bring about the end of the bill – taking action on the streets all over the country to make the issue visible and to cause disruption for those private health companies seems a good place to start. There is the demonstration outside the Department of Health this Saturday which we can make huge – tell everyone you know about it If you can’t make it down, why not find some people in your area and take action locally being sure to get the local news along too. Use social media to report your own news.

After the demo on Saturday, we will move to a secret location that is looking to profit from the sale of our NHS. This action will send the message to them and to politicians that we will not allow them to make mega profits from our health service. Check out the awesome blockthebillbuilders website for targets and get planning further actions so that we can highlight what exactly is happening to our NHS under this bill.

We have a short amount of time but many many actions planned. Get involved in whatever way you can. The NHS is a great common project which testifies what wonderful things we can achieve when we work together. Drawing from this spirit of togetherness, let’s organise to stop this bill.

(There’s a wonderful book called ‘Hope in the Dark: The Untold History of People Power’ by Rebecca Solnit – I’m sure there’s some beautiful quotation in here somewhere that I should include, but can’t find it at the moment – I’ll get back to you on this one.)

Central London shut down of workfare stores

4 Mar

Running is one of my worst things. But yesterday afternoon I found myself running up and down Oxford Street with one hundred other workfare protesters. We’d gathered in Central London to take action against high street stores profiting from forced unpaid labour for benefits. After two weeks of online and street protest, this Saturday was our National Day of Action Against Workfare with actions happening all over the country.

We weren’t convinced by the government’s ‘concessions’ this week – and were also clear that this was not the end of workfare as there were four other workfare schemes that had been overlooked by the media. We wanted to remind people of these and to show the high street stores that our campaign had not ended with the weak government response. If they continued to participate in workfare schemes, we would be outside and inside their stores raising this issue until they stopped.

We met outside BHS which had since pulled out of workfare schemes, reflecting the impact of the last two weeks of public pressure. From here we would head to our secret location. In the quickest example of consensus decision making ever we decided there and then that we would shut down a workfare store and set off following two Boycott Workfare flags that were held above the crowds. In a wonderful police radio conversation reported by @thinktyler one was heard saying ‘they don’t seem to have a leader’.

We passed Topshop which was heavily guarded by gigantic security guards – they’d clearly got this action confused with UK Uncut. We left them be and headed further on. Our group surged along the streets with the police jogging to keep up to form a moving kettle around us. We ran around them trying to get in front of them so that we’d be able to enter the high street store to fully shut it down. But they seemed to have done some research because when we approached Pizza Hut, two police officers had managed to get in front of us and block the doors.

Pizza Hut was our first target because it is part of the Work Programme – the government’s much lauded workfare scheme that is costing billions of pounds of tax payers money but will do absolutely nothing to alter the unemplopyment figures and is basically about bullying unemployed people and pushing them onto workfare. The Work Programme gives billions of pounds to companies such as A4e who are being investigated for fraud and G4S which was involved in the murder of Jimmy Mubenga.

We stood outside Pizza Hut and unfurled our huge banner declaring ‘If you exploit us – we will shut you down’. From here it was put to the group whether we deemed the Work Experience scheme to be workfare still, in the light to the government’s ‘concessions’. Considering the direct and indirect sanctions that are still in place in the Work Experience scheme there was immediate agreement that companies involved in Work Experience were still fair game. We passed out maps of the area which had helpfully marked all these companies and encouraged people to decide where we wanted to go next. The flags were raised and we were off. The police joining in too trying to get to the stores before us but not knowing which one it would be. Everywhere we looked seemed to be a company involved in workfare.

All of a sudden I was in McDonalds – looking behind me I could see police blocking the doors and pushing protesters away, in front of me were surprised looking customers and staff. I explained we were there because of workfare that was forcing people to work unpaid and was undermining people’s jobs before being bundled out by the police. It was a shame that the encounter in McDonalds was so short as we were unable to have meaningful discussions about why we were there and to hand out leaflets.

Another splinter group had managed to get into Pizza Hut but were quickly removed. The action was so fast paced and fluid. It was very effective as we were able to target stores and get into them to effectively shut them down. Perhaps it sounds a little silly – dodging the police, getting into stores, getting chucked out. But I genuinely believe that this sort of direct action is one of few effective actions that we can take. Ideally we would stay in one store and shut it down for a couple of hours, using it to hold discussions on workfare. But the police were under strict orders to not let this happen – and also we wouldn’t want all the other workfare stores to get let off.

We were off again – this time rushing along the back streets of Oxford Street. People had got into the Holiday Inn, which is involved in the Work Programme, and also, one woman informed us, used to employ illegal immigrants for very very low wages, before this new flow of free labour from the Job Centre. The police removed the protesters and lined the steps of the Holiday Inn looking like a rather strange football team photo.

Our tour came to an end here as we were exhausted from all the running. But we reminded the Holiday Inn that we would be back until workfare was scrapped. Workfare is a punitive policy which exacerbates issues of unemployment and poverty – there is strong public feeling against it and yet the government are still trying to roll it out. However, yesterday, actions took place all over the country against workfare. And will continue to do so until it is ended with living wages and welfare rights secured for all.

Be sure to check out other reports, tweets etc. from other actions across the country. The media have done an appalling job on reporting workfare (just watch Jeremy Paxman’s inept chairing of a workfare debate on Newsnight) and particularly the National Day of Action. It’s up to us to report the news ourselves.