Thousands of redundancies are in the pipeline in education and health. Schools are being identified for closure. School transport and public transport are being slashed. The recent decision to close the Accident & Emergency unit at Belfast City Hospital will result in impossible demand on the remaining accident and emergency units in the Belfast area which are already barely coping as a result of cuts in staff numbers in recent years.
The politicians in the Assembly responsible for making these cuts are attempting to divide opposition by making demands for cuts to be made in other communities, towns and cities and to other public services. This was seen when libraries were closed in Belfast. Politicians in each area called for other libraries to be closed. This is a conscious policy to divide working class people over where cuts “should” be made.
The Stop the Cuts Campaign was launched in order to build a united movement of opposition against all cuts. We refuse to be drawn into a debate over what public service should be cut or which workers should lose their jobs. Of course, we are opposed to the millions which are wasted every year in consultancy firm fees and through privatisation schemes such as Public Private Partnership contracts, but we will not entertain cuts to public services and real jobs. The financial crisis was not caused by the public sector and ordinary people who rely on public services. The real culprits – the wealthy bankers and stock market speculators – should pay for their crimes, not essential services.
The Stop the Cuts Campaign is receiving widespread support and is now supported by several trade unions including NIPSA (the largest trade union in Northern Ireland), the I.N.T.O. and the Fire Brigades Union as well as many political groups and campaigns. It is a broad campaign which aims to build a co-ordinated democratic mass movement against the cuts. Recently the Stop the Cuts Campaign took an excellent initiative in organising a campaign against the closure of the A&E unit at Belfast City Hospital. It has been pivotal in bringing together local people in South Belfast who have distributed 10,000 leaflets against the closure and has collected in excess of 10,000 signatures against the closure. The campaign has also gained a lot of publicity and challenged the nonsense from the Minister and the Trust in seeking to justify the closure.
Our approach is to build united active campaigns to fight the cuts which are democratically organised and inclusive. We have recently discovered that the Socialist Workers Party has chosen to launch a new anti-cuts group at a public meeting in September entitled ‘Defend Our Health Service’. We are concerned at this development because it has the potential to cause confusion and disorientation if two rival campaigns are fighting cuts to the health service. It was a mistake not to have discussed with others campaigning against cuts before taking such an initiative. Well-known health trade unionists such as Pat Lawlor at the Royal Victoria Hospital were not approached. A serious initiative to launch a health campaign would have included all those opposed to the cuts to participate in a democratic manner. The Stop the Cuts Campaign does not seek to control or dictate the anti-cuts movement. We are in favour of specific campaigns on specific issues – such as a local hospital, school etc. The Stop the Cuts Campaign will work with others in a broad campaign on specific cuts. But since it is being proposed to establish a new campaign – not on a specific cut – but to cover the entire health service we feel it will sow confusion and result in a divided movement against cuts.
The Stop the Cuts Campaign has appealed to the SWP and People Before Profit to participate in the campaign to build a united movement against the cuts, including the health service. The Stop the Cuts Campaign has focused on the health service in recent months and has built up a considerable profile amongst health workers. We also think it is crucial to cut across attempts by some to “prioritise” the funding of certain services over others. Unfortunately, even some within the trade unions have argued that health should come first and be prioritised over other services. This can sound reasonable to some at first hearing, but in reality it is an argument to make cuts in education, transport and other services and is an acceptance of cuts. Even arguing for “prioritisation” though is not a call for no cuts to the health service. The reality is given the scale of cuts and the major expenditure on health and education in relation to other services, it is utopian to argue for prioritisation of these services. The position argued by some right-wing trade union leaders of “prioritising” health services only serves to undermine support amongst workers in other services. It is also an attack on health workers as cuts to education and other services impacts on their families etc.
The most effective means of cutting across these divisive methods is to unite the opposition against all cuts. The launch of a new campaign against health cuts complicates this and should be reconsidered. We appeal for those involved in launching this new campaign to urgently meet with the Stop the Cuts Campaign to discuss these issues with a view to agreeing a way forward which facilitates co-operation and unity.
Stop the Cuts Campaign Co-ordinator