The NHS and Democracy

A well-attended meeting at Ruskin House last night (13 September 2018) called by Croydon TUC was left in no doubt that there has been a covert strategy, intensified since 2010, to dismantle the NHS and feed it to US-based health corporations. Addressed by Dr Bob Gill, a Sidcup GP, and Sandra Ash of Keep Our St Helier Hospital (KOSHH), we learned that attempts to close St Helier were just the first step in the closure of acute and other facilities across South London (including Croydon University Hospital where a new Chief Executive, Matthew Kershaw, may have been brought in to achieve this) and across the country as part of a fattening up process. This was made possible by the Health and Social Care Act 2012  which freed the government from statutory responsibility for providing a universal NHS care and by continued under-funding that is intended, in part, to weaken public support for the NHS by generating more, high profile failures.

The meeting was attended by Joy Prince and Patsy Cummings, two of our most progressive Labour councillors in Croydon, but the absence of other Labour councillors and our two Croydon Labour MPs, Steve Reed and Sarah Jones, was criticised from the floor of the meeting. Are our local Labour politicians unaware that Croydon TUC holds open meetings every second Thursday of the month at Ruskin House and has done so for many years? Is their unfamiliarity with how the Labour Movement functions and the nature of the relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party an excuse for their dismal absence? We think not.

Earlier this week Chris Williamson MP, the campaigning Labour MP and Corbyn supporter, addressed another public meeting at Ruskin House. Its aim was to call for more democracy in the Labour Party. This is an internal matter for that party and not a matter into which we wish to intrude, but we do very much agree with the basic principles that Mr Williamson was expounding:

  •  MPs and councillors are responsible to, and accountable to, the parties that select and nominate them (OK, Tories are an exception), not to an amorphous electorate that voted for them on the basis of their party affiliation; and
  • being an MP or councillor is not a job for life and should not be treated by those fortunate enough to be selected and elected as a career.

As communists, we would, however, go much further than Mr Williamson and seek to establish real democracy, not the present sham of voting every four or five years to determine which members of the ruling class are to administer their system in our name. A Corbyn administration would be very welcome and might just be able to halt the dismantling of the NHS (if the Parliamentary Labour Party allows it to), but we need real, direct democracy where our votes and our views have continuing significance between elections.

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Jeremy Corbyn and the Trade Union Bill

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership election has been warmly welcomed by the Communist Party although, given the composition of the Parliamentary Labour Party, no one in our Party expects his task to be an easy one. The immediate resignation of six members of the Shadow Cabinet and the universally hostile reception he received in the capitalist press and the BBC (with little to differentiate them these days) illustrates the difficulties he will face. Yet on his first day in Parliament as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will lead his party’s opposition to the Trade Union Bill. If the dissidents in the Parliamentary Labour Party cannot rally behind him on this issue, they will expose themselves for the Tories they are. Mass mandatory re-selection of MPs will be the only solution.

The Bill is pernicious. It will allow agency workers to be drafted in to strike break whether or not they are competent to do the job. Amateur train drivers? Longer notice of strike action must be given to employers of impending action (fourteen rather than seven days) and, more significantly, unions will have to publish, fourteen days in advance, a written plan of any intended protest and specific details about it, including social media use. Demonstrations will be severely circumscribed and simple majorities will no longer be sufficient to authorise strike action. In effect, and unlike other elections including those for parliament, an abstention will count as a vote against. On that basis, Scotland voted for independence and the Tories lost the last general election.

Yet there are trade union law reforms that are needed. Electronic voting by union members in the workplace would greatly enhance workplace democracy; firms that engage in blacklisting should be prosecuted; and police spying on trade unionists and left wing activists should end immediately. That the last activity is still going on was revealed by Dave Smith, a victimised trade unionist and author of Blacklisted (New Internationist, 2015), to Croydon TUC on Thursday.

Dave’s revelations did not come as a surprise to the significant number of Communist Party members at the Croydon TUC meeting. Anyone who knows our Party’s history knows that systematic efforts were made in the past to penetrate and spy on the Communist Party.  There is even evidence that the sanctity of the voting booth was systematically broken in order to identify and report the names of those even daring to vote for Communist Party candidates. Given the reduced scale of the Party’s electoral activity in recent  years, necessitated by the need to re-build the Party more or less from scratch in the 1990s, and the obstacles faced by smaller parties in parliamentary elections (the dominance and bias of our mass media including the BBC, the high cost  of lost deposits, the undemocratic nature of first-past-the-post  etc), it is unlikely that Special Branch expend much effort these days on this particular nefarious activity but other forms of spying on trade unionists, activists and communists continue and will continue until they are exposed and our reluctant authorities are forced to abandon them and legislate accordingly.

Now those would be sensible reforms! No doubt Jeremy Corbyn will propose them on Monday. Good luck, Jeremy!