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Health Cuts:

Unions Must Lead the Fight Back

(June 1979)


From Militant, No. 462, 29 June 1979, p. 6.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).



Despite Tory Chancellor Geoffrey Howe’s promise that health spending levels would be maintained, the NHS is faced with massive cuts even without any further reductions.

This is due to erosion of cash limits by inflation, new VAT rates and wage awards. Millions of pounds are being wiped off Health Authority spending. This means tens of thousands of jobs at risk, together with the services they provide.

Area Health Authorities talk for the first time of redundancies rather than ‘natural wastage’.

Redundancies! When there is already a huge shortage of staff in the NHS, including 70,000 nurses. When we have a waiting list over half a million!

The horrors of the situation came home at last to members of the City and East London AHA(T) at their recent meeting. Before them was the stark reality of at least £10m shortfall in funds; and proposals drawn up to make savings. These have already been detailed in Militant (June 1st).

Tory members on the Authority said ‘Be realistic – accept there is no more money.’ Labour members, however, were beginning to get the message from hospital unions and the local community.

One member nominated by the local authority proposed that more money be demanded and that meantime the Authority maintains existing levels of service and establishments.

All Labour members spoke in support. Their point was that they had been party to enough cuts in the past, that there seemed to be no end in sight, that promised improvements had not materialised, and now was the time to take a stand.

The Chairman (Mr Cumberlege, tea broker) gave his usual lecture. Allocations were decided by the democratically elected government. If the Authority overspent it would only have to be paid next year, with even more drastic cuts, etc.

An amendment was moved to completely water down the motion, calling for yet another cap in hand delegation to the Regional Health Authority. The amendment was passed with members from Labour local authorities being outvoted.

One such member immediately resigned, stating he now had no alternative to conducting opposition outside. Unfortunately this was only a personal gesture. Other Labour members and the trade nominee remained seated to continue the charade of democracy.

This performance demonstrates our weakness on these Authorities. Members tend to ignore their Labour Parties and trade unions, feeling they know best. A determined opposition, an ultimatum followed by a ‘mass’ resignation would have had tremendous effect.

The Tory rump would have been left to carry on, with Labour completely disassociated from any further carve-up of the NHS. This would have been tremendously encouraging to hospital staff and trade unionists campaigning against cuts.

It would have restored some credibility to the Labour Party, and made it easier to convince NHS trade unionists to take up the political struggle inside the Labour Party.

Already the Tories had begun to show hesitancy. The chairman and members were unwilling too hastily to rubber-stamp the proposals, postponing decisions and asking management to produce alternatives.

Management expressed frustration, complaining that they were told not to overspend, yet proposals for savings were not accepted.

But due to the uncertainty, staff will inevitably be tempted to seek jobs elsewhere. In this way the run-down commences. The trade unions need to adopt a much firmer position, one that will allay fears of staff and give them confidence they can win.

Despite the shortcomings, these developments must be welcomed. The changing attitudes of some Labour councillors on the Health Authorities and the prevarication of top administrators reflect pressure building up in the movement.

The leadership of our organisations must take note of this, and begin to mobilise the ranks of the trade unions and Labour Parties. If these leaders ignore the decisions and demands of our movement they must be replaced by those prepared to take up the challenge.

Our movement’s enormous power once installed the NHS. It must now be gathered to replace the Tory government by a Labour government thoroughly committed to change in society ...

The only way to combat the poverty and conditions which cause widespread bad health is by eradicating those conditions. This requires a programme to provide jobs at decent wages for all, to provide decent housing, schools, and decent, safe working and living conditions.

Such a programme requires a complete change of course by the next Labour government. It needs a programme for socialism.


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