A huge protest against Tory cuts and privatisation was seen in London on Saturday, as over 250,000 healthcare workers, trade unionists, and activists descended on the streets of London in defence of the NHS. This enormous display of anger must now become a platform for a mass political movement against the Tory government and their austerity.
On Saturday 4th March, over 250,000 people from across the country gathered in Tavistock square in central London, marching towards Parliament Square to demonstrate in defence of #OurNHS. This massive demonstration brought together activists from a variety of healthcare campaigns and trade unions, including NHS staff, doctors, nurses, and care workers, as well as thousands of other ordinary people who rely on and have been helped by the NHS. The demand amongst all of those who marched was clear: for a fully public, properly funded National Health Service with NO privatisation, NO profits, and NO cuts.
At least 150 buses arrived at the start, packed with people from various regions across the country, as a seemingly endless flow of protesters set off towards Westminster. Those marching came from diverse backgrounds, and many of the speakers, placards, and slogans clearly emphasised the positive impact that migrant workers from across the world have on the NHS.
Saturday’s huge protest reflected the enormous mood of resentment and hatred towards the Tory government that exists amongst workers, youth, and the poor and vulnerable, who are still paying for the crisis of capitalism after seven years of Tory austerity and cuts. Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May were the main symbols of this anger, whilst one striking placard of a vulture tearing at the NHS – symbolising the current state of our healthcare system – optimised this disgust.
Speakers from the platform outside Parliament included Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite and John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor. The demonstration climaxed with a speech from the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke of the importance of the NHS – not just as a right in and of itself, but as a core to the kind of society we want to build and live in. Offering a strong message to the protest, Corbyn argued:
“Those values of a society where everyone’s health is cared for also apply to so much else. Such as how you treat the homeless. Such as the housing crisis. Such as the underfunding of education. Such as the treatment of low-paid workers. Such as those who don’t even get the living wage.”
Despite the setbacks seen by those working in the NHS – from the imposition of the junior doctors’ contract to the loss of bursaries for student nurses – the resolve of those fighting to defend the NHS remains undefeated.
Saturday’s massive demonstration now needs to become a platform for a mass political movement that offers a bold socialist alternative to Tory austerity and attacks, with Corbyn’s Labour and the trade unions at its head. The demand to reverse all the cuts and privatisation in the NHS should be combined with a call to nationalise the banks and the major monopolies – to plan the economy in the interests of the many, rather the profits of the few, so that we can provide decent public healthcare, education, transport and housing for all.