This is an article written for the GMB Southern Region journal Vision.
In Swindon our members in the NHS are faced with the prospect of the local Trust becoming a Foundation Hospital. This is part and parcel of the government’s policy of introducing a ‘market’ in the NHS in which self-standing Trusts compete with each other and private companies for patients. One of the ‘advantages’ for a Foundation Trust is that it can opt out of national agreements on wages and conditions of service.
Having heard some of the complaints about sponsored MPs on the GMB Congress web cast, what, I wondered, was the attitude of GMB sponsored MPs on this disastrous course which is liable to destroy the NHS as a national service? I did a little research. According to the GMB web site we have 100 Sponsored MPs in the Westminster Parliament. Of these, in government positions high and low we have (this was before the ‘coronation’ of Brown):
4 Secretaries of State
7 Ministers of State
1 Parliamentary Secretary
5 Parliamentary Under Secretaries
1 Lord Privy Seal
1 Solicitor General
1 Lords Commissioner at the Treasury
1 Deputy Speaker
20 Parliamentary Private Secretaries.
And to keep the voting fodder going through the lobbies we have 3 Assistant Whips. Yes, three of our sponsored MPs have the job of pressuring other GMB sponsored MPs to support privatisation of public services.
Some will say that this crowd listed above cannot vote against the government. True. All they have to do is put their career prospects before the interests of our members. There is nothing to stop them resigning but lack of principles. Some of them no doubt do believe the neo-liberal dogma.
However, even if you leave them out of the equation, of the remaining 56 MPs, I have only been able to find 11 who voted on some occasion (some of these have not been consistent) against Foundation Hospitals. That is to say that 89 MPs sponsored by the GMB have supported the privatisation of the Health Service; the introduction of a ‘health market’.
You have to ask why the GMB, or any other union for that matter would continue to support MPs who are prepared to support the abandonment of the principles on which the NHS was founded.
I believe the policy of the union, agreed at the CEC a long time ago, is that we will not automatically sponsor Labour MPs or candidates. We said we would test whether or not they have supported the fundamentals of union policy and the interests of our members. If we are to take this policy seriously then we should apply it rigorously. That means above all else we should withdraw support for anybody who supports the current ‘public sector reforms’ which are so disastrous for our members and for the service they supply.
Before I joined the GMB I was for many years an RMT activist. RMT activists were sick to death of the refusal of our MPs (including two jags Prescott) to support our members’ interests. The RMT’s sponsored MPs parted company with the union when they refused to campaign for re-nationalisation of the railways, to oppose privatisation of the London Underground, and flagging out of ships.
The RMT wrote to all Labour MPs inviting them to join a new Parliamentary Group which would be based on 4 points of policy. The money provided for the group goes into a campaigning pot. The basis for joining the group is purely support for the aims which relate to the interests of the members of the union. Neither the MPs nor their constituencies receive any money. To join the group you have to be interested in campaigning for the policies. Today, despite the fact that the RMT was expelled from the Labour Party it has a 22 member parliamentary group, led by John McDonnell.
Although the GMB, of course, is still affiliated to the Labour Party, the same approach in regard to a Parliamentary Group could usefully be applied. Pick the issues which are rooted in the interests of our members and invite MPs to join it in order to campaign for these aims. Don’t support careerists or people who support the free market dogma of ‘New’ Labour. This is after all a government which could declare in the European Union that the right to strike is not ‘a fundamental human right’! Of course, it would be a much smaller group than currently. But what is the point of supporting MPs who support policies which are detrimental to the interests of our members? So long as they take our votes and our support for granted, then they will not act in the interests of our members. It is high time to dump MPs who are content to see the NHS turned into a competitive market, who fail to campaign for employment rights from day one and so on.
So long as the GMB continues to remain affiliated to the Labour Party it should step up the political battle with the ‘free market’, neo-liberal agenda on which government policy is based. Re-launching a Parliamentary group on the basis of aims which posed a fundamental change of direction would show the government we were in earnest. Most importantly, it would show our members that we were serious about fighting for their interests and those of the working class in general.