Over ten thousand demonstrators marched thorough a rainy Lewisham this afternoon in a tremendous display of community opposition to the plans to close the A&E and other services at Lewisham Hospital.
The chants of "We won't die for the PFI" summed up what these cuts are all about - protecting the PFI contractors' profits at the expense of public health and healthworkers' livelihoods. See short video: http://youtu.be/Wd-dJT1wyBo
NUT members helped boost the numbers after an email was sent to teachers working right across South-East London to call on them to support the demonstration.
In a meeting after the demo inside Lewisham Hospital I had a chance to congratulate the staff on their stand - and to encourage them to take the step that trade unionists have to consider when their jobs, conditions and workplace are threatened - to take strike action.
UNISON members in the mid-Yorkshire NHS have taken strike action just this week - as reported in 'the Socialist': http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/keyword/UK_Towns_and_cities/Yorkshire/15737/21-11-2012/mid-yorkshire-three-day-nhs-strike - so there is every reason for UNISON and other health unions to back action in Lewisham as well.
Taking strike action is no easy step for any worker to take, particulalrly a health worker, but today's demonstration showed how a firm stand would get firm public support. Of course, the pro-cuts politicians and press would hypocritically attack healthworkers for taking action. But far better to have hospital services restricted for a few days of determined strike, than to have them permanently lost through cuts and hospital closures !
Campaigners will be hoping that the many responses to the consultation opposing these NHS cuts, backed up by today's demo, will already be making the trust 'administrator' reconsider his proposals. But, if not, then strike action needs to be prepared alongside further community campaigning.
Neither can we settle just for saving Lewisham hospital at the expense of cuts elsewhere. This needs to be a united battle to defend NHS services right across South-East London.
No cuts, no closures - cancel the PFI debts and defend our NHS!