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The British working class is facing the fight of its life. The NHS is facing destruction. Mark Booth writesThe Health and Social Care Act, the ConDem government’s massive “reform” of the NHS, has been voted into law. It allows for the privatisation of the whole NHS, under the rule that “any qualified provider” can be contracted to provide any NHS service. Behind a smokescreen of GPs being given control of the health system, control over services and the NHS budget will be transferred to private health corporations and management consultancies.

These changes are already underway, but they can still be stopped. Despite the lack of coverage of the issue in the media a massive groundswell of public opposition exists to the government’s NHS reforms. There is massive opposition to the Bill amongst NHS staff and opposition from professional bodies like the British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal College of Nursing (RCN). Public opinion polls show overwhelming opposition to privatisation. So what has to happen for this opposition to be turned into action?
Coupled with the government’s reforms are £20 billion of cuts to the NHS budget over the next four years. Already this is leading to necessary operations like hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery being withdrawn, and operations being withheld from people who drink and smoke.

The cuts will prove a key mobilising factor as crucial services and facilities are withdrawn or closed, and previously public NHS departments are privatised. While dozens of campaigns will spring up around the country as cuts start to bite, these local campaigns must crystallise into a national movement to save the NHS. We need to build a campaign as massive as the antiwar movement, with local groups in every town and city, rooted in the community carrying out regular activities, with a national centre to coordinate resistance around the country, calling national days of action and protests. If this is done it is possible to create a terminal political crisis for the government.

So far the Labour Party opposition to the Bill has been a matter of speeches. They hope that the NHS reform’s unpopularity will fuel a Labour vote at the next general election. The Labour Party receives millions of pounds from health unions.  We must demand that its cynical passivity ends and MPs and local parties join the fight to defend every service and every job. Their MPs must demand the total repeal of the Act. It must pledge itself to renationalise without compensation all hospitals and other facilities handed over to the privateers.

The members of the largest health unions, Unite, Unison, the RCN and BMA, along with the TUC, must force their leaders to organise a national demonstration against the reforms. Demonstrating the level of public opposition on the streets will help shatter the government’s lies that there is widespread support for their actions.

Ultimately though it will take a massive campaign built from the grassroots up to stop the destruction of the NHS. We need a movement on the scale of the Stop the War Coalition, which can mobilise people with the same energy and dynamism, build links between local communities affected by the cuts, health workers and their unions. What it must not do is make the same mistakes as the Stop the War. It cannot restrict itself to demonstrations but must take direct action, strikes and sit-ins, to stop closures and privatisations.

This kind of campaign can be built. Over 1.2 million people work for the NHS. Millions more use its services on a regular basis. The personnel and supporters for such a campaign are already there, but they must be organised. An opportunity to do so is coming up.
Keep Our NHS Public and the NHS Support Federation have called a National NHS Supporters Conference to be held in London on 23 June. Activists around the country should contact KONP and NHSSF and get involved in building and organising the conference. We need delegations from every town and city, from as many union branches as possible so that the conference can launch a national Save The NHS coalition and prepare for a fight that could sink these devastating reforms, and bring down the ConDem government.

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