The recent months have seen an acceleration of cuts in the NHS which have been covered fairly comprehensively in the capitalist media. They have totalled at least 8,000 so far, with observers estimating far more to come. All over the country people are being informed that their local health services are to be reduced in some way. Workers are being laid off, trainee health workers are being informed that there may be no jobs available for them when they qualify, and the wider public are bracing themselves for ever longer waiting lists. Look a bit closer and you will see a raft of pro-market reforms that amount to privatisation by stealth accompanying the cutbacks, including PFI schemes, outsourcing and switches to foundation status.
It is in the best interests of workers in the health service to be active in struggles against these developments, but we need to be careful that our activity is not hijacked by those with other agendas. The right wing press is happy to publicise the cuts whilst sending out the message that what is needed is more privatisation. The left and the trade unions want to use official anti-cuts and anti-privatisation campaigns as a way of appearing active and bolstering their own power without having to involve the grassroots membership, or indeed do anything remotely effectual. There is nothing sacred about a nationalised NHS, indeed the way it is being run at the moment - layoffs, outsourcing, cuts, mergers - is entirely in keeping with how a private company is run. What we should be interested in defending is not some abstract principle of nationalisation but working class living standards.
The NHS, to an extent is not run as a normal capitalist concern (a principle that is being rapidly eroded) which was an improvement in living standards won through struggle. It provides jobs, and free healthcare at the point of use. The extent that health workers are losing their jobs and patients are finding it harder and harder to be treated without having to go private, the British establishment is moving towards the US model in which healthcare is seen purely as an opportunity for profit and where doctors are known to check whether someone can afford treatment before saving their life.
As Anarcho-syndicalists we don't recognise a distinction between economic and political issues and this is a perfect example of how health workers and the wider working class that depends upon them are united in a common interest. We should be pushing for maximum cooperation, solidarity and collective action between health workers whose jobs are under threat and the wider working class whose health is similarly threatened, in order to defend our jobs and living standards.
We should also, as always, be seeking to retain control of our own struggles and not allow them to be hijacked by politicians or trade union bureaucrats. At the same time we should remember that all value in our society, including the resources used in the NHS, is created by the working class, and that our ultimate goal is a society in which we have taken back what is ours and everything, including healthcare, is free.