Saturday 18 May 2013 - ‘Keep our NHS public’ London-wide march
Around 1000 - 2000 people marched from Waterloo to the Department of Health on Whitehall, to protest against ongoing cuts and the privatisation of the NHS. The march was backed by 10 London Save our Hospitals Campaigns, including 5 Labour MPs, 3 London Trades Councils and local branches of GMB, NUJ. Unison, and UNITE.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! had the loudest contingent, using our sound system to initiate an ‘open mic’, leading chants and encouraging other protestors to speak up. Amongst other things, we spoke about the role of the Labour Party in introducing PFI into the health service, and the lack of real resistance from the trade unions to job losses and cuts.
A high point of the march was passing activists from ‘Lewisham People Before Profit’, a group that we have worked with in the Save the Lewisham Hospital campaign, who had scaled offices owned by Barclays bank on the Strand. Dressed as doctors, they had hung a banner highlighting Barclay’s profiteering role in the break up of the NHS.
When we stopped our contingent and asked people to remain with us to support the direct action, we not only had to deal with the police trying to get us to keep moving, but also some of the official march stewards who were heard saying to the police ’ don’t worry, these people are nothing to do with us and we’ll get the march moving again’. Sadly, this is a story being repeated up and down the country - representatives of the unions and the Labour Party seeking to dampen down any activity outside of their control, seemingly to promote an image of ‘respectability’ in their anti-cuts campaigns. Unfortunately there is nothing respectable about the damage caused to the NHS over the years by successive Tory and Labour governments.
The direct action that Lewisham People Before Profit took during the march is one fantastic example of the kind of uncompromising action that needs to be repeated and supported if we are to reclaim the NHS. Encouragingly, the attitude of the march stewards on Saturday did not dampen the spirits of the majority, and the protest only reinforced the idea that there are enough people out there who are willing to mobilise and fight to save our NHS.