Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Fantastic turnout at 30 November strike rally and march in Cornwall

Up and down the country schools, hospitals, council offices and other services have been affected today by the biggest wave of co-ordinated strike action for eighty-five years. The BBC estimate 80% of all schools were closed today. Between two and three million public sector workers, from more than thirty unions have gone on strike to defend their pensions from the outrageous attack the Tory-led governnment has launched. They want public sector workers to pay more into their pension schemes, work longer and receive less at the end. But public sector workers are not only striking for their pensions. They are also striking to defend their services from the vicious cuts agenda this government has unleashed.

There were marches and strike rallies in towns throughout the country. Many places have reported the biggest demonstrations in living memory. In Truro in Cornwall, a thousand people filled the Hall for Cornwall for a strike rally, leaving hundreds to wait outside. Speakers included a physiotherapist, a young woman teacher in the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the branch secretaries of the University and College Union (UCU) at Cornwall College and Cornwall University, Falmouth, a teacher in the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), Peter Cogbill from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Stuart Roden, a full-time organiser for the Unison Union.

However, the speech of the day was given by Alana Bates, a care worker and representing Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance. Alana spoke about how today's action was part of a global movement against cuts and austerity throughout Europe and the world. She spoke about Occupy Oakland and the way it called a general strike which shut down the fifth largest port in the United States. As a private sector worker herself, she exploded the myth that private sector workers do not support public sector workers in their fight. She called on the government to provide decent pensions for everyone and told the packed hall, to huge cheers, that she brought solidarity from all those workers that are not on strike today.

After the rally there was a march through the city that ended at the cathedral. An endless procession of cars honked their horns in support and pedestrians waved, cheered and shouted their support. As the march entered the square in front of the Cathedral, the organisers announced that the police were estimating 3000 people on the march. The square was a sea of banners and flags from GMB, Unite, Unison, NUT, NASUWT, ATL, UCU, PCS as well as many individual placards and banners from Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance, Right to Work, the Labour Party and Socialist Worker.

After a few more speeches the day came to an end. As people dispersed, the mood was extremely upbeat. Everyone present knew that something incredible and historic had happened that day. Of course this cannot be the end. There must be further strikes if the government is going to be forced into a retreat. And if the workers are to win, the action must escalate. There must be further strikes in the new year, and they must be for 48 hours next time. We also need more unions, such as the Communication Workers Union (CWU), Rail and Maritime Workers Union (RMT) and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) involved next time. Ultimately we need to move to a position were workers are going on indefinite general strike. Our slogan must be "all out, stay out".

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Hands Off Our Hospital! Stop All The Cuts!

The 'Hands Off Our Hospital' campaign to stop the cuts to West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance is progressing well. Activists have been out in force on three consecutive Saturdays, leafletting and collecting thousands of signatures. The demonstration on 3 December is building momentum. As well as Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance, West Cornwall Healthwatch, Save Our NHS (Cornwall) and the Cornishman newspaper, all of whom were at the first meeting, the campaign is supported by the Mayors of Penzance and Hayle, many Penzance town councillors, Andrew George the local MP and many individuals. Many shops in the town are displaying the posters and much of the town has been leafletted door-to-door.

However, Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance has understood that if these and other cuts are to be stopped, there is a need to understand where these cuts are coming from and why they are happening. The Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust claims that the closing of the medical ward at West Cornwall Hospital is a clinical decision and not a financial one. They claim they need to move the beds to Treliske because of an expected rise in seasonal flu. If money is not a problem, why cannot they have extra beds at Treliske without them raiding the local hospital in Penzance? Of course this IS a financial decision and it has been forced on them because the Tory-led government is making the trust making £20 million of 'savings'. As a result hundreds of jobs are being axed and nurses that leave are not being replaced, making the workload for the already overworked nurses that remain even greater.

The way to stop these attacks is to combine the local campaign with a national movement in order to build a national focus that can inflict a defeat on the government. If the government is defeated over one attack, it will make it harder for them to carry out further attacks. The campaign with the biggest chance of success is that of co-ordinated strikes that began on 30 June and will strike again at the end of this month.

On 30 November up to 3 million trade unionists will be going on strike against this government's cuts agenda. This needs to be seen as a day for everyone to fight back and make their voices heard. Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance have organised, with the unions involved, a rally at the Hall for Cornwall in Truro at 10am, followed by a march to the Cathedral. Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance were out leafletting this afternoon in five towns, including Penzance (Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance) in order to try to get as many people as possible to come on the day, including from the Penwith area.

This day of co-ordinated strike action is not the end, however. This must be just the beginning of a campaign of protests, strikes and occupations that can stop all the cuts and bring the Tory-led government to its knees.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

New campaign launched to save West Cornwall Hospital

Around fifty people, representing three different local groups, a local councillor, the local newspaper and many ordinary local people discussed the loss of services at West Cornwall Hospital at a public meeting last night at the Ritz Community Centre in Queens Street in Penzance. The meeting agreed to launch a new campaign specifically to defend the hospital.

The meeting, organised by Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance followed a protest of about fifty protesters in Penzance on Saturday 22 October after the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust announced it would be closing a medical ward at the West Cornwall Hospital at the same time that a refurbished ward is finally re-opened. This represents half of the medical beds. In less than two hours, more than a thousand concerned local people signed a petition calling on the Trust to keep West Cornwall Hospital running as a functioning hospital.

In a meeting held at the hospital earlier this month Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance members were told that the ward would reopen on 5 November. Members are now worried that this lack of 'clarity' will only worsen when, and if, the Trust achieves foundation status.

Anthony Matthews, from Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance said "The reaction from local people was just fantastic. They were queueing up to sign the petition. In fact we were a little bit swamped at first. People of all ages are worried about what the future holds. One young girl told me that she and her friends would chain themselves to the hospital if it was ever threatened with closure".
The trust claims that the ward is being closed so that another can be opened at Treliske Hospital in Truro to deal with higher need during the winter months. However, many feel that this is another step towards the downgrading of the hospital to a clinic.

Many fear having to make expensive and time consuming journeys to Truro for treatment, especially as there are issues around funding for public transport.

Alana Bates, from Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance said "With the Coalition Government's cuts to the NHS we are seeing ward closures across the country. We are determined to keep our local services. If this is not a finincial decision, as the Trust claims, then why can't we have a ward at West Cornwall and a ward at Treliske? We want a good, accessable local hospital for everyone. We will do all we can to show that people in West Cornwall feel strongly about the need for the hospital."

Last night's meeting, hosted by Penwith Anti-Cuts Alliance also heard from representatives of West Cornwall Health Watch, Save Our NHS (Cornwall), Lib Dem councillor Mario Fonk and a reporter from the Cornishman. The meeting agreed to launch a new umbrella group 'Hands Off Our Hospital' and elected an organising committee which will meet next Monday. It was also decided that other campaign groups such as Health Initiative Cornwall and the The League Of Friends Of The West Cornwall Hospital will be approached to join the new group.

The meeting decided to organise an event on the 3 December called 'Join Hands to Save Our Hospital'. It will be assembling at St. John’s Hall at 11am and walking to the hospital where there will be an attempt to encircle it to demonstrate the need to protect the hospital from proposed cuts.

Every Saturday between now and then there will be a stall at the bottom of Causeway Head from 11am until 1pm where the general public will be leafletted and signatures will be collected on a petition. There will also be leafletting door-to-door. Everyone is encouraged to join in to help spread the news about the campaign. For more information contact Alana on 07530428246 or email pzanticuts@hotmail.co.uk

Pics: Peter Carter