By Dermot Rathbone, co Founder Save Our NHS Hull, Political and Equalities Officer UNITE Community Hull. I am writing in a personal capacity which may not reflect the views of the Branch or the Union as a whole.
There are many good and varied reasons for ensuring that Len serves another term as our GS, as indeed there are some arguments for a change such as I feel that he is too close to the Labour Party and we are not forensic enough in our criticisms of what has gone so terminally wrong in the supposed political wing of our movement. I would in fact argue that UNITE disaffiliate from the Labour Party in order to concentrate on the campaigns that our members need. But that discussion is for another day.
My day to day experience is in the NHS so this article comes from that perspective.
The public love our NHS. The 2015 Social Attitudes Survey showed very strong support for the service as free at the point of use, and tax payer funded. 92% of those surveyed believed that the NHS is underfunded. Pre the 2015 election a YouGov survey showed that only 1 in 12 Tory voters supported privatising the NHS. UNITE and Len in particular fully understand what this means and since 2011 have led a wave of campaigning to defend our NHS.
From opposing the 2012 Health and Social Care Act (which called for “any willing (not qualified or trained) Provider” to deliver services”) seeing off the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership threat to the NHS, to fighting changes to terms and conditions for our health professionals Len has been leading from the front, setting an example to inspire out grass roots activists to put their coats on and get out and become involved. Local groups across the country have UNITE to thank for providing the expertise and practical advice about running campaigns whilst at the same time nurturing the activists on the front line with the confidence to lead.
In Hull we have been faced with £100 million cuts to our local hospital trust and UNITE members were key players in setting up Save Our NHS Hull and E. Yorks. With just a handful of exceptions the Labour Party, and the local MP’s bar one, missed the boat completely. Six years later there are few signs that anything has changed. One MP refused to engage because he said we (UNITE activists) were, “running around with a bunch of (drum roll……) Trots”.
Other UNITE inspired local health campaigns have included supporting our ambulance staff who are facing deprofessionalisation (which compromises public safety) privatisation and trashing of terms and conditions, plus speaking up for Hospital Doctors, cleaners and a variety of Health workers under the cosh.
We work closely with our brothers and sisters in other Unions and political Parties and I would call on Len to continue to build on this. The Labour Party’s spectacular implosion via multiple acts of self mutilation leaves a dangerous vacuum. Len has had the courage to step up to become defacto leader of the opposition. If we form a United Left in and out of Parliament including the unions and others opposed to the Tories, and especially to the rise of the Far Right both here and in Europe we have the chance to stop a repeat of the 1930’s when ascendancy of Fascism was facilitated by decadent pseudo ideological splits on the Left.
Whilst I believe the Left should support Len, it must not be a free pass. Too much is at stake as we face the final onslaught of a capitalist system in it’s death throes. Poverty and then war are on the horizon and only the Left can provide the framework for what Paul Mason describes as, “Post Capitalist”, society.