The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Friday 22 March 2013

The Age of Austerity: Fighting Cuts and Privatisation – Broxtowe Save Our NHS!

Higher Education (HE) in the UK is under attack. Members of staff see a year on year decline in their real income and their pensions undermined, students face tuition fees of up to £9000 per year. There are clear signs that more and more parts of HE are to be privatised. And yet, HE is not the only sector suffering from cuts and austerity in the UK. The national health service, provisions for disabled people and Schools are subject to similar restructuring. In order to highlight the broader dimension of the coalition government’s assault on the welfare state, the local UCU association at Nottingham University organised an event on Friday, 15 March to discuss the impact on the health service and some local moments of resistance.

Photo by Byzantine_K
The invited speakers were Sharon Vasselin and Paul Martin, both joint secretaries of the local Trades Council and members of the local Broxtowe Save Our NHS group. Sharon Vasselin, who works in the health sector and is a Unison rep, outlined some key aspects of the government’s attack on the National Health Service (NHS). From April onwards, health service contracts also have to be offered to private health care providers, who will compete with NHS units. The consequence is clear, private providers will cherry pick those parts of the health service, which are profitable, such as walk-in treatment centres, and leave the more complex tasks to the NHS. In a way, Sharon Vasselin argued, the NHS is set up to fail in this scenario. While patients may receive similar levels of services from these privatised units during the initial years, this is highly likely to decline later on. Moreover, private providers in health care will lead to a two-tier labour market, where workers in private facilities will earn less and have less good pensions than in the NHS. Downward pressure on wages and working conditions across the sector is the inevitable result.

How can resistance be organised? The current Unison line is to put as many spanners into the privatisation process as possible until the next election, when hopefully a new, more sympathetic government comes to power and is prepared to reverse the changes. Paul Martin picked up on this point and made clear that the most important goal of the Broxtowe Save Our NHS campaign was regime change, the de-selection of the current Conservative MP Anna Soubry. As she is a junior minister in the Department of Health, the NHS was the main area to campaign on. He further discussed how this campaign was cooperating with a whole range of other campaigns organising the resistance against austerity at the local level and for regime change at the national level. 

Photo by Byzantine_K
Participants at the meeting agreed that a change in government was the absolute precondition for a change in current policy and for saving the NHS. And yet, was it not the Labour government, which had started many restructuring initiatives also in the NHS, when in power from 1997 to 2010? Are not current privatisation efforts in the health sector facilitated by past Labour policies? And, if so, what guarantees do we have that another government would actually also reverse the changes currently implemented by the coalition government? In his concluding comments, Paul Martin made clear that regime change in government is not enough in itself. Some change has to occur also within the Labour Party itself to guarantee a change in overall policy (see also A socialist alternative through the Labour Party?). What is clear, however, is that isolated struggles against restructuring of individual sectors will not be successful. Struggles against the cuts in HE need to link up with struggles against NHS restructuring as well as other anti-austerity struggles. 

Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK

Personal website:

22 March 2013

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