The recent last-minute rushed-through passage through parliament of Clause 119 of the government’s Care Bill 2013-14 will no doubt have left many in the working-class movement feeling in a familiar quandary: namely, whether to feel more depressed about the passage of the bill itself or at what passes for the British left’s predictably tepid show of ‘opposition’ to it.
Clause 119 (formerly called Clause 118) is a tacked-on amendment to the Care Bill, which – almost unbelievably – gives the health secretary unilateral power, at just 40 days’ notice, to liquidate whole hospital departments in order to service the debts of ‘failing’ hospital trusts. It won’t even matter if the department in question is well-run and is itself financially solvent: in fact, such departments – being ready sources of cash – would likely be prime targets for the minister’s axe.
The background to all this lies largely in the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) of the nineties and noughties. The brainchild of the Major government, and later expanded hugely under Blair, the scheme in effect amounted to building hospitals, schools and other ‘public’ works projects on a credit card – that is, using private capital borrowed at exorbitant rates of interest, to be paid back over many decades.
Though the Labour government in particular was always fond of portraying this as a progressive policy, driven by the ‘health ‘n’ education’ needs of the population, the reality was that the tail was in fact wagging the dog: the only ‘need’ being served here was the need of the banks for limitless and guaranteed supplies of easy – taxpayers’ – money; a huge and often unnecessary hospital-building programme merely served as an excuse for public funding of private profit margins on a vast scale.
Fast-forward to 2013 and this huge PFI debt burden on NHS Trusts, coupled with the swingeing cuts to NHS spending introduced by the Cameron government, had created a situation where up to a half of all NHS Trusts were in deep financial trouble.
The South London Healthcare Trust was formed in 2009 from a merger of three trusts that had already been losing money; in 2012 it became the first NHS Trust to go into administration. When the Trust Special Administrator (TSA) earmarked Lewisham Hospital’s successful A&E and maternity units for liquidation, local campaigners – after a protracted and expensive legal challenge – were able to have the TSA’s plans rejected by the courts as unlawful.
The point of Clause 119 is now to move the goalposts in the government’s favour by simply changing the law.
The truly pathetic response of the British left[a name=”_GoBack”>[/a] to the clear threat posed by Clause 119 was typified by that of the country’s biggest trade union, Unite. On 3 March, just a week before the Care Bill was due before Parliament, Unite announced a “hard-hitting digital campaign” against “David Cameron … wrecking our NHS”.
So what was the campaign’s strategy for stopping Cameron? After all, Unite’s hundreds of thousands of members could potentially be mobilised by the leadership to put real pressure on the government to ditch Clause 119, through strikes and other forms of organised civil disobedience. Moreover, the huge unpopularity of the government’s attacks on the NHS would mean that such action could count on the support of millions.
Sadly, however, this wasn’t to be. Instead, members were advised to ‘oppose’ Clause 119 by … wait for it … emailing their MP! Hard-hitting indeed. Bear in mind here that Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey – following the recent tragic death of the peerless Bob Crow – is probably now considered by many to be the most militant of Britain’s trade-union leaders.
The same complete lack of meaningful action could be seen across the ‘anti-cuts’ non-movement. The People’s Assembly signally failed to assemble its people; the TUC showed no interest in rousing its member unions. The most prominent ‘opposition’ was orchestrated by ‘campaigning community’ 38 degrees. The campaign organisers commissioned a slick video, which, while asking us through a series of soft-focus shots to care about local hospitals, somehow forgot to inform us exactly what the threat they were facing was! The video ended by asking viewers to … you guessed it … sign a petition (exact purpose unspecified).
How much longer will we in Britain put up with this sort of messing about masquerading as opposition?
It isn’t ‘Cameron’ or ‘the Tories’ that are the essence of the problem, but capitalism – as Labour’s equally loyal service to the British capitalist class throughout its history demonstrates unequivocally. The solution lies not in ‘emailing our MPs’, nor indeed (God help us) in shrugging our shoulders and waiting patiently for the next Labour government to come along.
The only solution to increasingly savage attacks on our living standards; the only solution to the liquidation of our health service in the cause of private profit; the only solution to the sort of brazen assault on democracy typified by the rushing-through into law of Clause 119, is to get rid of this whole rotten system once and for all. We need – and are in fact long overdue – leadership in the working-class movement that understands this critical point.
Build the revolutionary party of the working class!