On Monday May First, the May Day Rally and Celebration took place in South Tyneside. Some 35 local activists attended this annual event, this year held at the Alberta Social Club in Jarrow and organised by the South Tyneside May Day Committee and the South Tyneside Trade Union Council. The speakers were Mo Abuzahra (Chair of Unison Northern Region International Committee), David Donohue (Chair of Unite North East, Yorkshire and Humberside Health Committee) and Gemma Taylor (Unison Area Organiser, Co-ordinator of Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign and South Tyneside Public Service Alliance). We reproduce Gemma's address to the May day Rally on behalf of the campaign:
Firstly, I would like to thank the South Tyneside May Day committee for inviting us to speak here tonight on May Day, which is the international day of solidarity among working people throughout the world.
A day in which we celebrate fighting to bring into being a new world fit for all human beings where the rights of all are defended.
Right now we want a pro-social government elected that says no to poverty, no to war and no to racism.
Of course this May Day comes when Theresa May has called a snap election to try and get a mandate for her anti-social austerity direction for society for yet another five years. This is why we should go all out to oppose this direction for society and vote for our public services, our rights and our NHS which the present government wants a mandate to privatise and destroy.
Firstly, it was fitting that our newsletter, which we issued on the eve of May's announcement, leads with the headline 'NOW IS THE TIME TO DEFEND OUR HOSPITAL AND OUR NHS'.
We have to confront this whole arrogant move by Theresa May to call a snap election thinking she is ahead in the polls - so that it backfires on her and so we can stop this anti-social austerity direction for society and the NHS, and work to re-instate the NHS on our terms.
Since the formation of the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign, we are fortunate that we have received the full support of our local MPs in South Tyneside as well as many of our councillors and also other political parties active in the borough including even a respected member of Theresa May's party!
In other words, the work of the campaign has brought people together from trade unions in the hospital, people in the community, MPs, councillors and political parties into a campaign where the people decide, working out their aims and actions regardless of political views.
It is a campaign where the initiative is in the hands of those who are fighting in defence of their hospital acute services and safeguarding the future of the NHS.
The campaign in South Tyneside meets every two weeks and this is where we agree to take important actions to try and engage with members of the public around what is happening in the NHS - we have had many stalls with our petitions and leaflets. Our petition has now reached some 17,000 signatures. This shows the work that has been done in South Tyneside, which has moved on to Sunderland as well over the last few months, and we are achieving notable successes in that work.
We came out fighting against the Sustainability and Transformation Plans both national (which has for the time being been shelved) and the local plan to downgrade our acute services - called the “Path to Excellence” it has been delayed several times. This local plan is not a “Path to Excellence” but is likely to be a complete disaster for our local stroke, maternity, surgical and emergency services as it is driven through by massive government cuts to our health services.
Last year we started this fighting movement with a very large joint public meeting with MP Emma Lewell-Buck in August, and then hundreds took part in our demonstration through South Shields in late October, as well as taking part in a regional demonstration this February, and a huge national demonstration for our NHS in March this year sending a coach.
Alongside this we have continued to brief and assist the fight of the scrutiny committee and other councillors, having issued a briefing on the STP (PDF) and local clinical reviews, and are preparing to take on the CCG regarding the consultation to downgrade our acute services and move them to Sunderland (that has now been put back until June/July 2017). We are also active in attending the board meetings of the CCG and the HWB, and meet regularly with
(Chief Executive of the CHS and STFT trusts).
Also, you will know that last October on the 80th anniversary of the Jarrow March, Jeremy Cobyn leader of the Labour Party and the opposition in Parliament came to Jarrow. Whilst he was here he supported our campaign to save our hospital.
He said health care is a right and not a privilege and it should be provided as locally as possible, and he signed our petition. This is something that he as a leader and our campaign are very clear on. Health care is a right of all people in a modern society.
There is no possibility in the modern age for ordinary working people to provide for their own health care, it has to be guaranteed and cannot be treated as a “cost and a burden to the economy”. It is vital to the economy. What is the economy for if it is not to meet the needs of the people for free education and free health care with equal access to their local acute hospitals and regional specialist services.
The rationing of health care and the delaying of operations should not be happening in a modern society. This is being increased in order to force those that can afford it to pay, and thus line the pockets of the private health companies.
What has become increasingly clear to people is that austerity is not a mechanism to reduce the deficit. Austerity is being used to line the pockets of the rich and their private companies. Smashing this whole anti-social austerity direction is key, as is fighting for the alternative direction for society and the economy. As I said at the beginning, in this election let us go all out to defeat May and vote for our public services, our rights and our NHS, which the present government wants a mandate to privatise and destroy.
Our campaign will continue whatever the result, but the next 40 days will decide how hard our job is going to be - so lets make June the end of May!