WSWS reporters spoke to protesters at the Whittington Hospital demonstration.
In London, particularly, the necessity for integrated health coverage is immediately apparent. Protesters spoke of the difficulties of transport across the capital, and the impact of previous closures.
Anne had been treated for three major illnesses in the Whittington. She had opposed the closure of the hospital’s Accident & Emergency department in 2010. “They’ve saved my life on three occasions. Two years ago they wanted to close the A&E. That would mean we’d have to go to University College Hospital [in central London] or Hampstead. That’s a long way for us. We need this hospital and always have.”
Fred and Sam, who both work in education, pointed to the closure of hospitals in Edgware and Barnet.
It had taken them three-quarters of an hour to get to the march from nearby Finchley, they said. “Even though you’ve got a short distance the travelling is so long,” Sam explained. Her daughter lives in Lewisham, and is directly affected by the cuts there. Fred insisted the protest must “Go national! Get everybody on board!”
They linked what is happening to the NHS to attacks on all public services. Sam said, “At the moment we’ve seen more and more cuts. We work in education, we’ve seen the cuts in education, we’ve seen the cuts in the NHS. We haven’t got a future for our children if everything has gone now. We don’t want everything privatised.” She spoke of the “need to be investing in our hospitals, in our schools, because otherwise we’ve got nothing to offer anybody in the future.”
There was widespread criticism of the Labour Party on the protest, with David Lammy MP heckled by protesters shouting “Hypocrite!” Fred and Sam also did not see Labour as posing any alternative. “They haven’t really been ‘left’ for a few years, have they?” laughed Sam. Fred told us “I think they’ll all be the same, whoever gets in,” and that you can “say nothing” to governments. He called for an end to military spending, saying “Let’s not spend cuts money on arms and wars, it’s destroying everything.”
In contrast to the union officials on the platform, who insisted that tokenistic strikes had been successful in health and education, Sam said “I don’t think any of the unions are getting anything done really. In the schools we’ve had coordinated teachers strikes, we’ve had coordinated support staff strikes, but they haven’t really done anything. The cuts are still happening. We’re still seeing more and more being taken away.”
Fred summarised his position as “Help the needy not the greedy.” We discussed the need for action committees and new forms of organisation. “Definitely,” said Fred. “We need something new. Is that what you represent–something new? Definitely.”
Sean said he had come to protest against “the cutback and the closure of part of the hospital, which I think is morally wrong.” He said there needed to be a fight against the attacks on the NHS. The government, he said, “is prepared to do that, they’ve shown who they are, and unless we do something about it–fight back–they’re going to continue to do that.”
He called for a national campaign coordinated with local campaigns. “In the past, campaigns at Whittington Hospital have worked. So I think it is worth fighting, but you have to fight against the national cutbacks at the same time.”
Seamus said he was on the demonstration because he had had “a number of operations in this hospital and the care has been excellent. The thought of it being cut, and the welfare state being eradicated by this Tory government has made me angry enough to come on the streets. Today has been really surprising for me. I would have thought, with the rain, that numbers would have been low. But it just shows you that there is cohesion in local communities against these cuts to local services, the NHS and welfare benefits. That’s encouraging.”