United fight against 1%

In the face of a storm of protest from healthworkers the Tories are pleading poverty. They are desperate to fund their tax cut bribes at the expense of our pay packets and public services. Their attempt to split the workforce up around the country through the divisive local negotiations tactic must be responded to by a united national campaign

THE TORIES have all but given up hope of victory in the next election. They are now banking everything on tax cuts in 1996. So they are making no attempt to win support from the population as a whole. Healthworkers have rightly responded to the government’s paltry one percent pay offer for the insult that it is, but - unless we can organise a united campaign - the Tories, despite their deep unpopularity, could get away with another vicious attack on the working class.

The government has decided that any attempt to court popularity with its NHS policy is doomed to failure, so it is pressing ahead with its push to the market and privatisation. The barbaric attack on the health service - with hospital closures, cuts in services and job losses throughout the country - is deeply unpopular, but so far has not turned into action. The attack on pay could be the spark that is needed for workers to turn that anger into action.

This does not mean that workers are in an automatically strong position. However angry nurses are, however sure they are of ‘public support’, market forces are doing their job. Rationalisations, closures and redundancies have made it easier to divide and demoralise healthworkers. Nobody’s job is safe, and in many areas there is a pool of unemployed waiting to step into their shoes.

The government has cashed in on this for all it is worth. It has bought off the doctors and introduced an element of local bargaining to reduce the likelihood of a united fightback. So in hospitals where there appears to be little chance of closure - perhaps because of essential specialisation - some local union representatives believe they can pull off a good deal.

‘Good’ is of course a relative term. The full three percent (gained at the cost of services and jobs) would still leave workers worse off, as inflation edges up towards four percent.

Workers must look to a united fightback now, while the government is itself weak. Unison, the main health union has announced an NHS ‘Fair Pay Day’ on March 30, with demonstrations outside every hospital. This will be followed by consultations of all its health grades, aiming to co-ordinate industrial action, including with other unions. Even the leaders of the Royal College of Nursing, the ‘professional’ organisation, are looking to drop their no-strike commitment. The Royal College of Midwives has already decided to ballot over the issue.

These are positive steps but they will not in themselves force victory. Healthworkers need to organise across union lines, preparing to take the running of the dispute into their own hands. They need to link up first and foremost with other public sector workers, also faced with devastating attacks.

Above all we need a vision moving beyond the limits of the system to what workers actually need. That is why the Communist Party in its manifesto for the forthcoming local elections says: “Both Tories and Labour have starved the NHS of funds. The NHS should meet the growing needs of the population, not operate according to what capitalism can afford. NHS hospitals must be run not by trusts but democratic committees made up of trade unions and elected local working class representatives.”