This is a proposal for the creation of a cross-union health worker activist website and accompanying bulletin, as a necessary element in the development of organisation and politicisation among health workers in Britain. Its purpose would be to aid the development of a network of activists in the health service which can begin to act to transform our unions, spur action against privatisation and cuts, and lay the foundation for the unified national resistance needed to stop the destruction of the NHS as part of the Tory austerity project.
The level of organisation among health workers in Britain is currently incredibly low. Despite huge attacks, resistance remains fragmented and none of the health unions are putting forward a comprehensive plan of how to reverse the privatisation, secure wage rises or stop the cuts. Health workers are increasingly politicised due to the blatant wage gouging and corporate thievery demonstrated by the government and private health systems taking over NHS services, but there are few organisations for this politicisation to flow into and serve as an outlet for action.
There is a necessity for a grassroots popular response from health workers to transform this situation, but there is little in the way of organisation to do this at present, except on a branch level, and this is extremely uneven across the health service. The recent UNISON elections give a glimpse of the apathy among health workers and branch officials. Turnout was less than 5% of 437,000 members, and little more than 20% of health branches returned nominations. These are grim figures given the scale of the attacks we face.
The movement against NHS privatisation has largely been one taking place outside the unions, and with NHS workers involved as a minority, if they’ve been involved at all. Keep Our NHS Public is a prime example of this where non-NHS workers probably out number NHS worker activists 10-to-1. We need to address this, figure out why this is and change it. My experience from UNISON is the union has shied away from actively politicising workers against privatisation, as well as treating KONP like a proscribed organisation, withdrawing funding from the organisation and bullying activists who support it.
In this environment a platform for health workers which works to raise workers consciousness and provides an alternative perspective to that put forward by the union leadership is necessary.
A voice for Health workers
My proposal is that health activists, both those in parties and groups, and independents combine their efforts to create a news and discussion website for grassroots activists in health. Most activists and left-wing political parties produce a large amount of coverage of attacks on the health service, and reports of the limited resistance happening at the moment in isolated parts of the health service, but this is dispersed among a plethora of different publications, campaign groups and individual blogs.
The website could function as a platform to organise this material and centralise it in a place where it would be easily accessible to all. A monthly email out out could go out to subscribers with the latest news item and discussion pieces, and a selection of articles could be laid up in an A4, 4 page bulletin and be sent to subscribers, to be shared electronically or to be printed and distributed by activists themselves.
Much information is shared electronically, and most health workers will use e-mail, but a publication which can be printed and distributed by hand is a necessity, if only so activists can leave them around the workplace or distribute them to workmates to read.
The site could also serve as a platform for discussions about how we can resist, and different tactics for mobilising workers around the myriad of issues we face. Resistance is going to become harder the longer the recession lasts, the more fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS grows and we lose what little protection we have for workers rights. We need a full discussion of the tactics and strategies available to us, and we need health workers on the frontline to be privy to that discussion and participate in it, not just between the few health activists organised in whatever impromptu forums and meetings we can muster.
Creating a single source of news for health workers, which all activists could contribute too would combine and strengthen our efforts which are currently dispersed and isolated. And it wouldn’t take much more effort.
Most of us currently produce articles for our own political organisations, trade union branch bulletins, news websites and personal blogs. I am asking that as well as publishing in those forums, we create a single site where these articles are published so that activists across the country can access this information and analysis all in one place.
There already exist a number of websites for information and news on the struggle around the NHs; Keep Our NHS Public, Our NHS, NHS Support Federation. These are all good resources and contain useful information for activists.
What they don’t do is provide advice and information on what health workers can do themselves in their workplaces, organising as workers to use their powerful position in the workplace to resist cuts and privatisation to the health service. The aim of this site would be to provide the news and information for activists on the frontline of the service, carrying reports of strikes and protests, guides on how to organise and campaign in the workplace, coverage of the internal life of the unions, and host the debates we need to have out to develop a strategy to bring together a politicised movement of health workers in the NHS.
Timescale and what we can achieve
By creating this site we can begin to draw together activists into an organised network of contributors and distributers, which can function to link different struggles and workplaces together, and form the basis for more concrete organisation; the development of activist groups in workplaces, and eventually meetings and conferences of health workers’ locally and nationally dedicated to fighting austerity.
Is this a panacea to our present problems? No, but it is an absolutely integral element to a whole host of grassroots organising measures needed to turn around the situation in health. I understand the scepticism of comrades who may see this as a flash in the pan, but I’m dedicated to getting this going and keeping it going for at least a year. If the situation is no different in a years’ time, then I’ll accept we may need to try something different.
What we can’t do is just keep going on in the same way, with activists functioning in a highly atomised manner in loose, informal networks, separated by union membership, political affiliation or sectional interests of their profession. We urgently need to organise a united, cross-union national health workers movement dedicated to fighting to preserve and improve the NHS.
The NHS belongs to everyone. As health workers we have a duty to fight for it, and to try to improve it. It is not just important for us, but it is important for people around the world. Globally, health workers, academics and health service users look to the NHS as an example of what could be, what is possible when government policy provides healthcare based on need and not ability to pay. We have to protect that. At the moment we are weak, but through developing our organisation, we can raise people’s horizons so they can see what is possible, if only we organise to make it so.
I’ve already created a website, uploaded content from a previous Health worker bulletin, so some of the technical infrastructure is already in place, Visit the site: www.healthworker.org.uk