When a service is threatened with closure, our tactics must aim to keep the service open and running. Strike action just won’t work. The thing that workers can do is keep working!
But isn’t the main focus the community campaign?
The campaign has demonstrated how important Lewisham is to local people. The thousands on the streets to defend it has boosted the morale of the staff, and got attention in the media.
But it hasn’t changed Hunt’s mind. When it comes down to it no amount of demonstrations are going to force the government to back down. This is why we have to force the government to leave Lewisham Hospital alone.
And how can workers do this?
The Trust’s management has calculated it is in its interests to try to maintain services at the hospital. But management could change its mind or be replaced. When workers are instructed to start closing down services, they will have to refuse to do this and keep the services open.
By disobeying a management instruction workers immediately raise the issue of who is in charge of the service.
In today’s society we assume it is management who is in charge; normally staff do as they are told.
But we don’t just obey managers; we use our judgement and experience to make the practical decisions about how best to provide the service from day-to-day and week-to-week.
This reality of how things get done is normally hidden. By challenging management it becomes clear that workers, in any organisation, when they act collectively, have the real power. They can take over the workplace. They are able to be in control.
So you want a revolution in Lewisham Hospital?
We just need workers to do what is necessary to ensure that safe health services continue to be provided in Lewisham Hospital.
In some ways the idea of the NHS itself — universal free health care — is revolutionary. This doesn’t fit with today’s capitalist model. That’s why the government wants to destroy it.
Can workers take over?
Workers will have to have a flexible strategy which changes as events unfold.
In the first place we need an organised network of workers who are prepared to act, in contact with the community campaign, with workers in other workplaces and crucially neighbouring hospitals.
All grades, all job groups, will have to be united in this network.
This network will initially gather information about which services are being threatened at any given time. This information will be communicated across the network so that co-ordinated action can be taken.
In A&E it would mean working with the Ambulance Service to make sure patients are not taken away from A&E. It would mean all other departments continuing to provide support services to A&E.
In maternity it would mean mothers continuing to choose Lewisham, midwives and GPs continuing to refer there.
It will be necessary for workers in other hospitals to act in solidarity with Lewisham, to prevent sham or not-as-good services being set up in other hospitals as a justification for closing services at Lewisham.
So this “network” is in place?
Sadly not. Traditionally a union would provide the structure and resources for such a network. But the unions in Lewisham hospital are either not willing, or not big enough to take on this role.
While the community campaign will continue and give courage to workers, the essential task now is for workers to organise. We will not build this kind of network overnight and so we need to make it a priority now.
The campaign has been organising meetings for staff; this needs to continue.
Most importantly, the unions need to be renewed to in order to make them a fit structure for a proper workers’ struggle against the closure of our hospital.