Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Campaigners continue the fight to save the NHS

Around twenty people were out in Truro city centre on Saturday campaigning against the coalition government's Health and Social Care Bill. Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance and Save Our NHS (Cornwall) had originally organised a protest march to the surgery of local Tory MP Sarah Newton to hand in a petition but she insisted that only one person could come to her surgery and that if she was to accept the petition, it must be at her office outside the city rather than in the full glare of the public and media gaze.

Rather than accept Newton's attempt to avoid the publicity, activists used the occasion to collect more signatures and now have over 6000 from Cornwall alone. The national Save Our NHS petition has over 400,000 signatures. Despite the MPs stipulations, Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance members are determined to ensure that she will receive the petition in a time a place suitable to her constituents. Trying to make political capital out of attacking those that are trying to defend the services that she and her government are destroying is a very dangerous game. It may well backfire on her.

The next protest will be on the 4 June in Camborne. There will be a march and lobby of Conservative MP George Eustice. Assemble at Tesco car-park at 1:15pm.

For more see Conservatives sink to new low.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Cuts cost lives

The Tory-led government is getting itself in such a mess over its NHS 'reforms'. First they were forced to 'pause' the Health and Social Care Bill in parliament after the Liberal Democrats apalling results in the local elections where they lost over 700 council seats in England alone.

Then there were splits in the government with Nick Clegg contradicting his Tory colleagues by claiming that the bill would be delayed by six months.

Now Andrew Lansley has been forced into an embarrassing u-turn after a report by his own Department of Health has shown that people have died as a result of his decision to cut the funding for public health campaigns.

Those of us in the anti-cuts movement need to press home our advantage while the government is on the back foot and defeat these proposals to privatise our health service. If we can defeat them on this, we can defeat them on every other one of their rotten policies until we bring this nasty rotten government down.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Academies: an update

See also Academies: Selling our children's future.

Academies are funded directly by the government and operate outside of local authority control. The government describes them as independent state-funded schools. Essentially, academies have more freedom than other state schools over their finances, the curriculum, and teachers' pay and conditions.

In Ludgvan, just outside Penzance in Cornwall, the local primary school are looking to become an academy. Last night there was a consultation meeting with parents, also attended by the governors and some teachers. Around 30 parents were present at the meeting along with the governors and the headteacher Helen McFarlane. The school apear to be portraying this as nothing but a wonderful opportunity for the school to manage its affairs independent of local authority control. The headteacher cited the example of a pupil that required a translator, which took a while for the local authority to organise. She claimed that if the school had been an academy it could have arranged it straight away. However there is no way of independently verifying this. The problem may have been finding an appropriate person, for example.

Parents were told that the school would be run as a business and would have to set up as a ‘limited company’. The funding which is coming from the government is secure for this year, but the funding formula is being changed next year. How will this affect the school's funds?

Governors were asked what would happen if the school got into financial difficulty or, like so many businesses over the past 3 years, it went into administration. Parents were told that is was their belief that the government would want to bail the school out as they are promoting academies and want them to work. However, this is no guarantee that money would be there to help the school. Because the school has done so well with its budgets up to now is no guarantee that it will succeed under these new circumstances with new financial responsibilities it did not have before. The Government wants to create a market in education and therefore it is unlikely it will bail out “failing” schools.

Several parents voiced concerns over private companies coming in to fund the school. Questions are: what would these companies want in return for funding the school and what would happen if they went bankrupt? At a time of global financial crisis where so many companies have struggled, bringing the market into the education system opens us up to massive risks, especially as a small school. Any business needs to plan in case of financial difficulties and governors are offering little reassurance that the funds will be there. If government funds prove to be insufficient, the school could be pushed into bringing in private companies to fund it, whether they like it or not.

There is also the risk of unforeseen events, such as fire or floods. Parents were told in such an event the academy school’s insurance would cover the cost. However, insurance companies are not quick to pay up or get a job done. Parents are still waiting for insurance to cover the fire damage to equipment in Penlee Park in Penzance after two months. Under the local authority, pupils would be found alternative accommodation immediately and would not lose teaching time. That would not happen as an academy.

Parents were told last night that the consultation period lasts until 17 June. They were told that it would not be advisable for the governors to go ahead if there was significant opposition from parents. Therefore, there is a chance for parents to research this and put their views to the governors who will make the final decision at the end of June. This is a very big issue that carries great risks. Parents, teachers and governors have a duty to make sure it is the right decision for the school and the children. Parents can email comments to: comments@ludgvan.cornwall.sch.uk

However, the divisional secretary of Cornwall And Isles of Scilly NUT (teaching union) has stated that Ludgvan's application is quite far advanced, suggesting that this has been planned for some time. The letter telling parents about the meeting suggests it is just an idea they are considering. Some parents are concerned that the decision has effectively already been made and the consultation is simply cosmetic. Parents need to ask searching questions and make sure that every eventuality has been thought about and planned for. They need concrete guarantees about funding.

See also Academies: part three.

Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance gets off to a great start

Around twenty people packed in to the snug at the back of the Crown pub at the bottom of Bread Street in Penzance, Cornwall last night to officially form the Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance. The group was originally going to be called the Penzance Anti-Cuts Alliance but so many people came from the surrounding area that the meeting decided to expand the remit of the group. People came from Gulval, St.Ives, Carbis Bay, St. Just and Sennen as well as Penzance itself. There were individuals from the Green Party, the Labour Party, Mebyon Kernow (cornish nationalists) and the Socialist Workers Party as well as many people in no party. Unison, PCS and CWU trade union members were also present.

Many people were very angry at the coalition government's attacks on ordinary people and, in particular, the elderly, disabled, sick and vulnerable. People talked about how this government is continuing the agenda of Thatcher's government, but taking it further and more quickly. Many people spoke eloquently of their disgust at government policies and said that the level of anger amongst ordinary people in the area meant that there was much we could do to campaign against the policies of the government. People were angry that banks and bankers had caused the crisis and were still getting their profits and bonuses while ordinary people were paying a heavy price for bankers' and politicians' mistakes. And some spoke of the shocking fact that £120 billion in tax is either evaded, avoided or uncollected every year. This amounts to three-quarters of the deficit.

Cornelius Olivier, Chair of the Constituency Labour Party, spoke about the break-up of the National Health Service (NHS) in Cornwall and how local hospitals and community nursing was being outsourced to a 'community interest company'.

Tim Andrewes, a Green Party councillor in St. Ives spoke about the crisis in the building of new social housing, the changes to how housing benefit is paid and the impact this will have on local people.

Suzy Messenger, who works for a community development trust, spoke about the scandal of people being moved off disability benefit and on to job seekers allowance in order for the government to save money despite those individuals being unable to work.

The meeting discussed the current NHS campaign and it was felt that we could write a letter, calling on Andrew George MP to vote against the Health and Social Care Bill and try to get it signed by as many local general practitioners as possible.

The meeting also decided to produce a newsletter which we would distribute door-to-door as well as on a stall in the town, possibly on a Saturday.

Finally, the meeting discussed the day of co-ordinated action on 30 June. It was decided to approach local trade union representatives about the possiblity of a lunch-time rally on the day in which we could demonstrate our support.

It was agreed that the group would be a branch of Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance and all the membership forms available for that organisation were eagerly taken and most were filled out and handed back in immediately. There was a collection that amounted to around £50 and it was agreed that the next meeting would be at the same time and place in two weeks time, Wednesday 8 June.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Conservatives sink to new low

Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth, Sarah Newton, has plummed the depths with her latest trick. She has attempted to avoid a protest and petition hand-in at her surgery by cancelling or moving the surgery and pretending she doesn't have an appointment with the secretary of the protest group.

Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance have been running a campaign against the Health and Social Care Bill and £20 billion 'efficiency savings' for the last few weeks. It began with a protest in Truro on Saturday 14 May (see here and here) at which around 60 people marched from the Royal Cornwall Hospital to Lemon Quay in Truro for a protest and mass petitioning. Following on from this plans have been made to hand the petition in to many of the MPs around Cornwall.

The first march and lobby toook place last Friday. Around 40 campaigners and members of the public marched from West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance, through the town, to the surgery of local Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George. George claims to be against the bill and as such 'welcomed' the protest. However he was clearly concerned at the numbers and relative militancy of the protestors (see here and here).

The second march and lobby is planned for this coming Saturday 28 May. The march is assembling at 12pm outside Wetherspoons on Lemon Quay in Truro. The appointment has been booked for a month. However, Sarah Newton, the MP to be lobbied, has apparently realised that this could look bad for her. If protestors gave Andrew George a hard time, she must be thinking, what on earth will she face, and what effect will the publicity have on local opinion?

To that effect she has released a press release making ridiculous and spurious allegations (read it here). She claims that the group are "target[ing] Truro Library" and that the protest will "severely disrupt library staff and library users". Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance never had any intention of disrupting the library. The reason for marching there was that Newton's office said that is were her surgery would be when the appointment was made. She goes on to say "no-one from the Anti-Cuts Alliance thought to contact my office to arrange a time and place for the petition to be handed to me", which is, frankly, a rather pathetic lie.

Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance have responded with their own press release (read it here), describing Newton's comments as "outlandish and deeply misleading". It goes on
"Chris Gibson, Cornwall Anti-Cuts secretary, said “Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance made an appointment through Sarah Newton’s secretary a month ago, which was to meet with at her surgery in the Medium Room at Truro Library at 1.30pm on Saturday 28th May. Sarah Newton was clearly informed of the purpose of the meeting – the deep concern at the current health bill which will result in the scrapping of Primary Care Trusts, as well as intense local anger regarding the savage cuts taking place in front line services at Treliske Hospital. As the Secretary of the Cornwall Anti Cuts Alliance, formed to protect the ordinary people of Cornwall from the harshest cuts in over 80 years imposed by the Coalition government, which Sarah Newton explicitly supports, Sarah Newton’s denial of such an appointment is deeply contemptuous of the legitimate concerns of her constituents."
"Josiah Mortimer, a Cornwall Anti-Cuts campaigner and Youth Representative on Truro Community Library Board, said “Sarah Newton’s refusal to meet with pro-NHS constituents this weekend seems like pure scrutiny-dodging when nearly 400,000 people have signed a petition against the NHS reforms, including over 5000 in Cornwall. Truro Library is by no means being targeted, as she claims, by Saturday’s planned peaceful march and petition-hand in which had arranged to meet her there. In fact, Cornwall Anti Cuts Alliance campaigns to save the very library services her coalition government is demolishing through savage local government cuts.”

"Chris Gibson also said “We would ask that Sarah Newton corrects her press release which stated that campaigners planned to ‘target Truro Library’. Her coalition government is pushing through cuts which will see hundreds of libraries closed – it is her who is targeting libraries and ordinary people like us who use and rely on them.”

Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance will continue their campaign against the government’s deeply unpopular NHS changes."
It remains to be seen how this will be resolved but there are many who feel the protest should go ahead. The pressure on Sarah Newton should be increased to make sure she does not get away with avoiding difficult questions from constituents rightly angry that her party in government are destroying the services upon which they rely. To try and turn it around to make it look as though the protestors are threatening services is pathetic and she must be exposed as the deciever she undoubtedly is.

The next protest is scheduled for 4 June in Camborne. There will be a march and lobby of Conservative MP George Eustice. Assemble at Tesco car-park at 1:15pm.

See also Campaigners continue the fight to save the NHS.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Academies: Selling our children's future

There is a campaign beginning in Ludgvan just outside Penzance in Cornwall against plans to turn the community primary school into an Academy. The government's ideological commitment to Academies have been discussed on this blog before. The Academy system is an attack on education in this country. It is an attempt to destroy a democratic, planned, state education system and replace it with a two tier, market driven collection of independent schools at the mercy of education companies driven by profit. Only 1,000 schools have applied to become Academies this year out of 20,000 primary and secondary schools, and as the financial bribes begin to fall, we can expect less to want to take this dangerous step.

Currently most schools work as part of the Local Authority. This is led by elected councillors. At the moment most schools are run by a head teacher working with a group of school governors, some of whom are appointed by the Local Authority, others are elected by parents or staff. Whatever its weaknesses, this system has many benefits not least the fact that governors and councillors are elected. Their decisions can be, and have been, challenged at elections.

Will there be more money for our children’s education if the school becomes an academy?
The government has confirmed that academy status should not give schools a financial advantage. The school will be allocated its share of the money that is currently held by the local authority to make provision across all schools for pupils with a whole range of special needs, pupil support, education welfare and school transport. Once the money is allocated to the school, it will have to provide those important services previously provided by the local authority. It may find, if, for example, it has a significant number of pupils with special needs, that it has insufficient funds to match the provision previously provided by the local authority. It is likely that we will be told that the school will get extra funding by becoming an academy. Any financial advantage will be for one year only as the government will be introducing a completely new funding formula for schools in 2012. And what about the costs of all these support services that were previously provided by the local authority and for which the academy will now be liable? And what about the safety net provided by the local authority, for example, in the event of a fire or a flood (as happens to too many schools each year). As things are, your local authority would find you new accommodation and sort things out – if your school is an academy you would be on your own in these circumstances.

Will becoming an academy mean that educational standards will be raised?
There is no evidence that being an academy school raises standards. Academy schools have no better record of educational achievement than any other type of school. Some have a far worse record. Academy schools do not have to abide by the terms and conditions agreements set up for teachers and teaching staff by the Local Authority. That means teachers may see their terms and conditions deteriorate and demoralised teachers may mean educational standards will be lowered.

Who will run the Academies?
Existing Academy chains, and Edubusinesses are lining up to take over our schools. Two examples: The biggest Academy chain in England is ULT. The government told them they could have no more Academies after Ofsted failed their 2 Academies in Sheffield. In 2002 Edison USA was caught in the stock market meltdown, with its shares plummeting from over $21 to under $1. The company solved this by selling off its books, computers, lab equipment and musical instruments! Edison are already running schools in England.

Any parents of children at this school are strongly advised to attend the meeting the school has organised. It is a chance to find out what it will mean for each child’s education and to ask questions. It is in the school hall this Wednesday (25 May) at 6:15pm.

Campaigning parents will be leafletting all the parents tomorrow and encouraging them to attend the meeting. If the governors do not back down as a result of this meeting a petition will be organised and possibly a public meeting with teachers and the NASUWT union.
For more on this campaign see Academies: an update.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Liberal Democrat MP feels the heat on NHS plans

On Friday around 40 people joined a march from West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance to the surgery office of local Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George. There campaigners lobbied him on the Health and Social Care bill which proposes to re-organise the National Health Service to allow private companies to make a profit out of healthcare.

Andrew George, who sits on the Health Select Committee, was asked if he would vote against the bill. He replied he would, if it remained unchanged. He said “unless the Government widens responsibility for the local management and commissioning of the NHS to a broader group of clinicians and community representatives rather than merely GPs and that they withdraw proposals for the wholesale marketisation of the NHS then the Health Bill will be dead in the water”.

He was also asked if he would resign from the Liberal Democrats if the bill was passed. He replied it was not a ‘party political issue’ and not relevant to the lobby of the NHS. But many of those present disagreed.

Before the last general election the Liberal Democrats positioned themselves as a progressive party who believed in closing tax loopholes, not renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system, access for all to higher education and a fairer, more equal society.

Privatising and cutting the NHS, making the less well off pay for the economic crisis with the loss of their public services whilst the rich still evade billions of pounds of tax is not progressive. It is a Tory policy which will lead us back to a Dickensian nightmare where those who cannot afford healthcare will either have to rely on charity or not get any care.

At the last general election the majority of people voted for parties to the left of the Conservatives (as the Lib Dems posed themselves as being) but because the Lib Dems have entered into a coalition with the Tories our society will become less fair, less inclusive and will be run for the benefit of the rich and big business.

If the Lib Dems fail to see that we do not wish to live in a Tory nightmare (and that is the reason the Lib Dems did so disastrously at the recent local elections and in the referendum) MPs like Andrew George will lose their seats. It is time for them to stand up to the Conservatives and speak out for the people who voted for them. Otherwise they will not vote for them again.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Plans for 30 June coming together in Cornwall

The National Union Of Teachers (NUT) in Cornwall organised a meeting on Thursday 19 May to discuss their ballot for strike action on the issue of pensions and possible joint activity on 30 June. The meeting was open to the other balloting unions and there were teacher members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) present.

The meeting was an opportunity for the union to argue in favour of voting 'yes' in the ballot and the overwhelming majority of the teachers in the room were in favour. The national NUT speaker said a number of things including:

1. The NUT and ATL ballots are looking 'likely' to return yes votes.

2. The ballot is for 'discontinuous action' meaning further action in the autumn is very likely.

3. Head teachers may also ballot. Although it will be too late for them to strike on the 30 June, they may join in the next wave in the autumn. Also, they are very supportive of the teachers' action and in many schools they will 'turn a blind eye', meaning there could be school closures.

4. The National Association of Schoolmaster/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) are saying they may also ballot in the autumn.

5. The TUC-sponsored discussions with the government over pensions are a 'charade'.

After the meeting he also said 'off the record' that Unison General-Secretary Dave Prentis is very angry at NUT for balloting now before the end of the talks because 'his members will be saying other public sector unions are going on strike, why aren't we?'

Ian Williams, divisional secretary for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly NUT (who spoke at a recent public meeting organised by Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance) said he has booked Lemon Quay for a rally on 30 June from 10:30am - 12:00pm. He said he expected all the other striking unions to be involved and he would welcome support from other unions or groups and they could also speak at the rally. Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance members present asked if he would be in favour of the idea of bringing people to the rally with placards saying things like 'Parents support teachers' and 'Students support lecturers' and so on and he said he would. The national NUT speaker suggested some sort of children's entertainment so parents and pupils could come along. NUT are producing a leaflet to explain the dispute to parents and they will be doing stalls in Truro a couple of Saturday's before 30 June.

This would be a great opportunity. Anti-cuts activists could organise a feeder march of service users and campaigners to the rally in Lemon Quay possibly arriving 10 or 15 mins after the trade unionists have been told to assemble as a visible demonstration of support from the public.

As previously mentioned on this blog (see here), 30 June must be seen as an opportunity for a day of resistance to the coalition government's attacks on public services bringing demonstrating protestors together with striking trade unionists to strike a blow at the heart of the government.

See also Links getting stronger as unions build for 30 June strikes

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Class Wars: The Working Class Strike Back

There is an argument that has become common sense in mainstream society over the last thirty years, that has also been taken up by much of the left. It is that working class power, so visible in the great upsurge of working class militancy during the early 1970s, has been fundamentally, perhaps fatally, eroded with the decline of manufacturing and the rise of globalisation. As a result it has been accepted that the unions too are in a largely irreversible spiral of decline, ever more marginal to British political life. Alongside this is the belief that the battle of ideas in society has largely been lost by the left. So, for example, Tony Blair's hold over the Labour Party was based on the widespread acceptance that Labour could no longer win elections on a programme of redistributing wealth and control over market forces.

However, since the huge trade union-organised anti-cuts demonstration of 26 March, class is still the clear dividing line in British society. The protest was the second biggest demonstration in British history, after the February 2003 anti-war march. But more importanly it was visibly the organised working class on the move. It was the unions that called the demonstration, organised it and marched together in vast contingents of Unison, PCS, UCU, GMB, Unite members and the whole range of the union movement.

Yet despite the real defeats the working class movement suffered at the hands of the Thatcher government in the 1980s the reality is that workers still have immense power, their basic organisation remains intact and the dominant set of ideas inside workers' heads is still shaped by the post-war social democratic settlement established by the Labour government of 1945. It is certainly true that manufacturing has been in relative decline as a percentage of the economy over the last four decades, but overall output has risen. In 2007 British manufacturing output reached an all-time high, and Britain is the world's sixth largest manufacturer. This means that, though the manufacturing workforce is considerably smaller today, each worker in manufacturing is producing much more and is potentially more powerful than 40 years ago.

We have also witnessed a transformation of white collar work over the same period. Jobs like teaching, civil service and local government have been subject to the same routinisation and control that governs a factory production line. Where once these were relatively privileged jobs, they have now been "proletarianised". This reality underlies the unionisation of these sectors - a fact reflected in their huge presence on the TUC march. This process is continuing. University academics were not part of the labour movement en masse 30 years ago. Now visiting the picket lines of striking higher education lecturers in the UCU the week before the TUC march was no different from visiting a PCS or Unison picket line.

Trade union membership stands at around 6.5 million, or just over one in four workers. This is of course sharply down from a peak of over 13 million in the late 1970s, a fall largely explained by the loss of unionised jobs in manufacturing, rather than workers leaving unions. The unions remain overwhelmingly the biggest voluntary organisations in Britain (though there is, of course, little place for them in Cameron's "Big Society"). And their potential reach is greater than the overall membership figure suggests, with nearly half of all workers in a workplace where a union is present.

Private sector union membership is much lower than in the public sector. Trade union density (the proportion of workers in a union) is around 15 percent in the private sector compared to 56 percent in the public sector. The unions are present in nine out of ten public sector workplaces but only three out of ten private sector ones. But the picture in the private sector is more complicated and contains some important strengths that point to the potential for a fightback. The low overall level of private sector unionisation masks some very significant concentrations of union implantation in key industries. So union density reaches 40 to 60 percent, even as high as 75 percent, in electricity, gas, water supply, transport, storage and communications. And key manufacturing sectors like engineering, the car industry and food production retain significant levels of union membership.

In launching an onslaught on the public sector the government is attacking the biggest concentration of union membership, but unlike Thatcher's attacks on the working class (until the introduction of the poll tax provoked opposition on such a scale that it drove her from office), the current Tory-led attack is across the whole working class at once. The potential for a generalised fightback is real, and if it turns into reality it is likely to win widespread sympathy from workers in the private sector. A serious strike movement can both directly draw in the private sector and inspire workers there to start raising their own demands.

Since at least the late 1990s a rising level of political anger and ideological generalisation has thrown up a series of mass movements: over anti-capitalism, climate change and most significantly in opposition to the war in Iraq. But these have not been matched by the level of economic struggle, with strike figures for the decade 2000-2009 averaging just 692,000 days of strikes per year, slightly up from the 1990s but a fraction of the levels of the 1980s, let alone the 1970s. The government's attempt to significantly accelerate the assault on the post-war settlement that has been taking place over the last three decades is now producing a serious clash with the prevailing levels of working class consciousness and organisation. This raises the possibility of driving the generalised political anger in society into the economic struggle.

Since the autumn there has been a rising arc of protests against the cuts. It is a bridge that can take the political and ideological radicalisation into the economic struggle. The sense of confidence it gave workers who felt they were no longer isolated in the face of the Tories' assaults has shifted the balance of forces inside the unions, at least for now, in favour of those who want to fight. Mark Serwotka of the PCS, echoed by Len McCluskey of Unite have argued for coordinated strikes by unions against the cuts as the next step in the campaign.

We have to argue for national action, coordinated wherever possible, inside our unions while also delivering local action whenever we can. Alongside this socialists need to be fighting to develop resistance to every cutback in local services and attack on the NHS. We need to develop a "culture of resistance" that feeds into the workplace and can create networks of solidarity with any groups of workers that fight back. Mass strikes can break the coalition's austerity drive, destroy their political will and raise the spectre of a revival of working class militancy. Their nightmare must be our ambition.

This post is based on an article by Mark L. Thomas. See here for the full article.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Cornwall NHS protest well received

Around 60 people marched from Treliske Hospital to Lemon Quay in Truro yesterday (Saturday) to protest against the cuts at the hospital and to protest against the government's Health and Social Care bill which is currently ‘paused’ in Parliament due to opposition from health professionals and the public.

The demonstration was joined by some workers from the hospital and some members of the general public who have not been in contact with the group before. There were members of the UCU, NUT and Unison trade unions. People brought their children too. Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George came to meet the demonstration and speak to marchers. He said he welcomed the protest and explained that it is part of a growing movement across the country to oppose the privatisation plans in the Health and Social Care bill. He is on the Health Select Committee currently looking at the bill and has been speaking out against the plans for some time. He said if there weren't very significant changes to the bill he would vote against it when it goes to the House of Commons.

Howard Newlove from Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance made an excellent speech reminding everyone that the plans for the health service are part of the Government's larger plan to cut back on public services and to hand them over to private companies to make a profit. Marilyn Middlemiss from Save Our NHS (Cornwall) said we had to keep fighting for the NHS or we will lose it. Local BBC 'Spotlight' TV came to cover the protest and followed it all the way into town. There was also a reporter from the West Briton present.

The demonstration helped to lift people's mood, especially with the support from people driving past the march. Drivers were honking it nearly all the way; people were even beeping who were driving in the opposite direction. Marchers were confident enough to go through the town, and were encouraged all the way by the public. One man joined in for a bit and was shouting 'make the bankers pay.'

Members of the NUT and UCU unions took part. They will be holding a meeting this Thursday to discuss joint strike action on 30 June against attacks on public sector pensions. What was achieved yesterday is only the very beginning of the campaign but already awareness has been raised and contacts are being made everywhere. This can feed into making June 30 a stronger fight back and that will give hope and confidence to those who are demoralised. Just doing a protest march won't stop the cuts, but it can energise people and make them feel they are not alone.

When the march reached the Quay nearly everyone who went past was signing the Save Our NHS petition, and over the previous week there had been an amazing response with the petition at Treliske Hospital, West Cornwall Hospital and in Penzance town centre. How is it possible to build resistance and get more beeping people out of their cars and onto the street? It is a long process. But there is reason to be hopeful. The coalition is very shaky, the government don't have a mandate for what they are doing, health professionals are opposed to the bill, and the GP in charge of the 'listening exercise' which is being conducted while the bill is being paused, has said the reforms are unworkable.

This is a fight that can be won, and that would definitely give people the confidence to fight the other cuts. It is very positive that some action has been achieved, the press coverage should be good and it attracted attention and got a VERY positive response.

Friday, 13 May 2011

30 June mass strike becoming a reality

This blog has already discussed the need for a day of resistance against cuts and austerity on 30 June (see here). This is getting closer. In many parts of the country there are joint union meetings to discuss action on the day. In Truro there is a meeting next Thursday that has been organised by the NUT but is open to the other striking unions and observers from Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance will attend.

Close to 1 million workers could be part of a mass strike on 30th June. Next week PCS conference will vote on beginning to ballot for 30th June strikes, NUT and ATL begin ballots next week, UCU have already returned a vote for strikes.

In the NUJ there are several groups of workers who could join action on the 30th. NUJ conference in April almost unanimously passed a motion calling on their NEC to pressure the TUC to call a general strike. Votes for strike action have come from members in Newsquest in North of England, Newsquest South London begins balloting on Monday, and all BBC journalists nationally are set to begin a ballot for strike action (although the start date for the ballot has not been announced).

The CWU executive is backing a motion to its conference calling for a general strike. They are also putting in their own motion calling for a national strike ballot (which would most likely be for action in October) unless Royal Mail delivers on a number of key issues. They could also start balloting all of London Royal Mail workers in early June, and today a ballot of London mail centres and Rathbone Place started. This result will be announced at conference (22-26th May).

These are very significant shifts within the trade union movement in Britain, but there is still everything to play for. The movement must be at the heart of pushing to get dates for ballots where this still has to become concrete, directing any possible disputes towards action on 30th June, building huge YES votes, and fighting to make the day of our mass strike, the 30th June, a day of wide-spread united resistance.

For more on the details of plans in Cornwall see here.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Privatisation, cuts and job losses in the NHS

The department of health says this year’s NHS budget is ‘ring fenced’, that is not subject to cuts but it has to make £20 billion of ‘efficiency savings’. However, Monitor, the regulator of NHS trusts in England warns this is an underestimate. It says health bosses must now slash their spending by 7% a year not the 4% previously expected. The nurses’ RCN union has identified almost 40,000 NHS posts across Britain that face being lost – up from the 27,000 it reported in November. That figure could now go much higher.

Hull and East Yorkshire NHS Trust last week admitted it would be cutting 300 beds (or 20% of the total) and closing 10 wards in an attempt to save £95 million by 2015. Patients across Britain are being denied new hips, weight loss operations and even cancer treatment due to the cuts. NHS waiting times have reached their highest level in England for three years. In February, nearly 15% of hospital in-patients waited more than 18 weeks for treatment, the highest level since 2008, according to the King’s Fund. The proportion of patients waiting more than four hours in A&E was at its highest level for five years. Yet 18 out of 26 NHS finance directors questioned said they were uncertain they can meet the government’s ‘savings’ target. Many admitted they plan to attack the terms and conditions of health workers. In addition to the three year pay freeze already implemented, they now want to end annual incremental pay increases.

The Health and Social Care Bill
This is currently ‘paused’ on its journey through parliament as a result of the outcry from health workers and the public. The bill would give private healthcare multinationals the right to make profit out of the health service. The job of handling 80% of the NHS budget will be given to GP consortia when they take over the job of ‘commissioning healthcare’ from the primary care trusts. However, the likelihood is that this work will be ‘outsourced’ and will also end up in the hands of healthcare multinationals. They will also run services that compete against those provided by the NHS in a bid to undercut them.

What health professionals say
Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the doctors’ BMA union has said that privatisation plans could “turn the clock back to the 1930s”—when the poor could rarely afford healthcare and were forced to rely on charity. He lambasted health secretary Andrew Lansley’s health and social care bill, saying the plans could result in the closure of hospitals and see some patients denied care by private providers because they are too expensive to treat.

Local cuts
At Treliske Hospital, the work equivalent of 400 posts are to be cut, which could mean up to double that number in workers being sacked. Staff already work under immense pressure due to increasing workloads. The 5000 staff members have been told by the trust’s board that operating costs have to be cut by £26 million in the next financial year and there must be savings of £19 million. There is an unconfirmed rumour that the doctor-led cover for the casualty unit (currently day and evening) is to be removed at West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance.

There will be protests around the country against the health secretary’s plans for the NHS including a major protest in London on Tuesday 17 May. There is a protest at Treliske Hospital on Saturday 14 May at 1pm. There will then be a march to Lemon Quay for a vigil with Save Our NHS (Cornwall) at 2pm. There is a lobby of local MP Andrew George meeting at West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance at 9:45am on Friday 20 May. There is a meeting of Penzance Anti-Cuts Alliance at the Crown pub at the bottom of Bread Street at 7pm on Wednesday 25 May. Everyone is welcome to come along and discuss what can be done to campaign against privatisation, cuts and job losses in the NHS as well as in our schools, Cornwall Council, children’s services, Royal Mail and so on.

When the NHS was founded in 1948 the national debt was almost 240% of GDP (it is currently around 50%). Tory spending cuts are a class attack, making the working class pay for a crisis created by bankers and politicians. The bankers are still getting massive payouts. The capitalist system went into recession, freezing the financial system and hurling millions into unemployment. Governments across the world stepped in to hand thousands of billions to bankers. In Britain they received £1.4 trillion. Now the bills for the crisis are being paid—not by those who caused the mess, but by its victims.

Thrown on the dole by the recession? Now you must get less. Disabled or sick? Now you must be hounded by assessment teams and driven on to lower benefits. Working on an average wage? Now you must abandon hope of a decent pension and see your pay frozen or cut. Rents will rise, but council tenants also face being thrown out of their homes if they pass an income threshold handed down by a cabinet of millionaires. Not only will colleges be cut, but education will be driven towards what business leaders want taught. There’s privatisation of the Royal Mail and of the core of the NHS. There are academies and other elite schools instead of comprehensives. And there’s a relentless ideological assault to define who are—and who are not—the “deserving poor”.

Labour is right to point out that the cuts threaten a new recession. It is economic lunacy that when cuts deepen a downturn, it leads to calls for more cuts. But these attacks cannot be opposed by an argument based on what is best for the bosses’ economy. This is not a technical matter of economic policies, it is a political choice. It is about the Tories’ ideological embrace of class war. We must embrace it too – from our side. The ruling class across Europe is watching carefully for the outcome—learning from one another, and urging each other on. Workers must do the same.

We need the biggest possible support for every protest, every lobby and every group of workers who strike, especially on 30 June when PCS, NUT, UCU, ATL and others may be striking together.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Climate Change: Is Nuclear Power the Answer?

The massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of Japan in March and the resulting major nuclear accident at the Fukishima power station has once again brought the question of climate change and whether or not nuclear power is the answer to the fore. The government has for some time been talking about building a new generation of nuclear power plants. The green movement has long been united in opposing nuclear power. However recently well-known and influential environmentalist George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian has said not only that he supports the building of new nuclear power stations, but that he is more convinced after Fukishima than he was before. He also attacks anti-nuclear campaigners in the article, claiming there is no proof to support the claim that radiation is dangerous. What is the truth of his claims? Does the science support his arguments? What should our position be?

The disaster at Fukishima is now ranked at the same level as the disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine where a reactor exploded in 1986 releasing 400 times more radioactive material than the Hiroshima bomb. Workers dealing with the fire, explosions and leaks suffered cancers and illness from radiation and their death rate from cancer is three times that of the rest of the population. 34,000 clean-up workers are thought to have died. In total 500,000 people are thought to have died as a result of the Chernobyl disaster and another 1.5 million have been affected. In neighbouring Belarus, which was 'down wind' of the disaster, 1000 children die from thyroid cancer every year. So the long term consequences for Japan's economy, health, agriculture and industry are massive.

Climate Change: the facts
There has always been climate change but now it is as a result of human activity. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we have been burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas which release greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are not all bad. If we did not have enough greenhouse gases the earth would be too cold to support life. However, if we have to much greenhouse gas the earth begins to heat up. At the current rate scientists predict global temperatures to rise by between 2 and 5˚C this century. A rise of more than 2˚C will mean more flooding, less food production, greater incidence of disease and more extinctions of both animals and plants. There is an urgent need to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels but in fact it is increasing.

The nuclear industry lies and the truth
The nuclear industry tell us nuclear power is safe and environmentally friendly. Indeed they say nuclear power generation is the only way to produce low carbon electricity. This is not true. Numerous disasters prove that nuclear power is not safe, not just Fukishima and Chernobyl but also the Three Mile Island disaster in America in 1979, the fire at Windscale (later renamed Sellafield to counter bad publicity) in Britain in 1957 and countless other smaller incidents and accidents. Nuclear power is also a net producer of greenhouse gases if the whole process is taken into account, as it of course must be. In fact every stage of the process releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The mining of uranium, the building of reactors and the storage of waste products. Indeed there is no long term solution to the problem of radioactive waste. As if that were not reason enough to abandon the idea of nuclear power, it is also very costly and is entirely reliant on government subsidies. In 1990/91 the UK government imposed a levy on fossil fuels amounting to £1,175 million. Of this 99% went to fund nuclear power stations and 1% went to renewable energy.

So if nuclear power is not safe, environmentally friendly, nor economical why is the government planning to build new nuclear power stations rather than investing in renewables?
Put simply, nuclear power is big business. There is a lot of money to made out of the industry because of the subsidies. Indeed there are also subsidies for fossil fuels and even arms trading. In America, which is responsible for 25% of global carbon dioxide emissions, politicians’ election campaigns, both Democrat and Republican, are funded by the fossil fuel industry. Massive profits are made by the oil industry, the car and rubber industries that depend on oil and the coal mining industry and this makes these powerful corporations an important lobby. The nuclear industry is also tied up with nuclear weapons. Indeed the first nuclear reactors in the UK were built to produce plutonium for weapons. The generation of electricity was merely a by-product.

Climate Change: The Solution
The solution is to phase out nuclear power and to spend the vast quantities of money currently spent on nuclear on renewable energy, such as wind power, wave power, tidal power and solar power, plus co-generation (heat is a by-product of electricity generation and can be used to heat nearby buildings thus reducing the demand for electricity). Compulsory energy efficiency schemes should be introduced for big business to reduce their demand for electricity. Finally we should support the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group's campaign for one million climate jobs in order to expand public transport (the second biggest cause of carbon dioxide emissions after energy production), increase sources of renewable energy, carry out energy improvements to buildings, offices and houses and to reduce emissions. This must be done by continuing to build a mass movement that can challenge the priorities of capitalist system.

Monbiot has recently claimed in the Guardian that anti-nuclear campaigners have made “wild” assertions about the dangers of radiation that have no scientific backing. In fact there is an abundance of scientific research showing significant links between radiation exposure and cancers, Down’s syndrome, kidney and liver damage, and other serious diseases. George Monbiot may say there is no proof that radiation causes illness and deformity. But there is evidence that exposure is linked to those illnesses and deformities. And there is certainly no proof that low doses are safe. The nuclear industry claims the risks are low. But why should we take any risks? A risk of developing cancer, however “low”, is not acceptable. It can seem preposterous that environmentalists like Monbiot are vigorously campaigning for nuclear power. But there is a logic to his position. Monbiot doesn’t think that we can meet our energy needs by a combination of green, renewable energy sources and increased energy efficiency. And he believes that any sort of radical change will be very difficult to win. Because he accepts these limits, he has become an advocate for one of the system’s worst aspects. Socialists have a different vision. We are fighting for a world that is sustainable and run by ordinary people.

Capitalism doesn’t care about the natural world or the majority of the world’s population. Building nuclear power plants in areas of high population density and earthquake zones is proof of this. So we must build a movement that challenges the interests of big business and the priorities of capitalism. There is no contradiction between this and the labour movement or the fight against cuts and austerity. We need to learn the lessons from the revolutionary wave in North Africa and the Middle East. The struggle against nuclear power is part of the struggle for a better world.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Fight Against Cuts Comes to Penzance

Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance is spreading to more and more parts of Cornwall. Initially primarily based in Truro and the west of Cornwall, a new group has started operating in Liskeard in the South-East of the county that wants to make links with the group. Similarly in North Cornwall a new group has made links with the county-wide organisation. Now there is a move for Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance to set-up branches in local areas in its traditional heartlands. First up is Penzance. Activists were out in the town today (Saturday) campaigning against the cuts in the National Health Service and the plans in the coaltion government's Health and Social Care Bill to effectively privatise the NHS. Shoppers were invited to vote in the 'People's Referendum' on the question 'Should we let private companies make a profit out of our NHS?' and to sign the petition initiated by the group 'Save Our NHS (Cornwall)'.
There was a very good response and many people were interested in getting involved with the group. The next action is a lobby of local LibDem MP Andrew George. on Friday 20 May from 9:45am. There will be a march from West Cornwall Hospital to Andrew George's surgery to hand in the national petition collected by the website 38 Degrees with 700,000 signatures and the local petition initiated by Save Our NHS (Cornwall) with 5000 signatures. Although Andrew George says he is opposed to the bill, there is a need to put pressure on him to make sure he sticks to his word and votes against it when it comes back to the House of Commons. The launch meeting of Penzance Anti-Cuts Alliance is at the Crown pub at the bottom of Bread Street in Penzance at 7pm on Wednesday 25 May.

Meanwhile Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance activists were also out in force in Truro today campaining on the NHS. There will be a demonstration at Treliske Hospital next Saturday 14 May at 1pm to demonstrate support for the hospital workers and to oppose the cuts which will cost jobs and endanger lives. There will then be a march to Lemon Quay where Save Our NHS (Cornwall) will be staging a rally. They will be collecting signatures and rising awareness of the implications of the Health and Social Care Bill.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Lets make 30 June a day of resistance

Workers’ spending power is set to drop for the fourth year running, the first time this has happened since the 1870s. The working class is being asked to pay the price for the crisis of the ruling class. However, workers opposition to the cuts is growing, putting pressure on the trade unions to act.

The NUT teachers' union, the PCS civil service workers' union and the ATL teachers' and lecturers' union have each decided to ballot their members over the issue of pensions. This opens the possibility of mass co-ordinated strike action on 30 June. The UCU college lecturers’ union has already struck over pensions and will no doubt do so again. Unite members at the MoD and even in health could be involved too. UCU members in the “old” universities could also strike again on 24 May over their USS pension scheme. Thousands of NUJ members at the BBC are being balloted over compulsory redundancies at the World service. NUJ members could also strike on 30 June.

Following on from the half a million plus strong TUC protest on 26 March, organised workers are now at the centre of resistance. If the ballots go the right way and 30 June goes ahead then there will be further pressure on the “big battalions” of Unison, Unite and the GMB to move. A sign of the pressure that already exists on the trade union leaders was the statement from Unison’s general secretary Dave Prentis statement this weekend that “unless this government changes direction it is heading for industrial turmoil on a massive scale...Unison will ballot 1 million of its members to strike to defend their pensions”.

There is a big difference between such statements and action. It will take a real fight by activists to win the ballots and make 30 June happen. But the idea of mass co-ordinated action, even a British General strike, is moving from the realms of sloganeering to reality. All anti-cuts activists have to take up an argument about the centrality of 30 June across the whole movement. This is not just another date in the anti-cuts calendar. This is the key date in developing the kind of fightback that can win.

We need a fightback in every part of the country on 30 June, including in Cornwall. There will be picket lines across the county if every school, college, the university and every PCS work place is out on strike. Anti-cuts activists should try to visit picket lines on the day but more than this we need to make it a day of resistance for everyone and get others involved. Could we get community groups, student groups, pensioners groups and so on to push for action of some kind on the day? Could parents be involved joining teachers outside schools? Could students occupy their university or college in support of their striking lecturers? Could we get delegations to picket lines from trade unions, anti-cuts activists with banners and placards and visit all the pickets in a local area? Could we organise a lunch time protest, demo and rally?

In the meantime we could leaflet civil service workplaces and colleges and try to contact local union reps. We could initiate or help call together mobilising meetings for activists to pull together the widest numbers of people who can build for the day and make sure we make the most of this fantastic opportunity.
In the colleges and the university we could try to organise joint mobilising meetings with students and involving other campus unions.

In Egypt, the demonstrations were the start of the process. But it was the strike movement amongst the working class that spelled doom for their tyrannical leader. Our movement may not be on the same scale as the one in Egypt but the lesson that we need to learn if we want to bring down our tyrannical government is that to win we need the organised workers to move. We need to see the 30 June as having the potential to land a serious blow on the coalition's plans and to make it, if not a day of rage, then certainly a day of resistance.

For more on this see 30 June mass strike becoming a reality.