Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Block the bridge, block the bill!

October 12th sees the House of Lords vote on the Health and Social Care Bill. In response to this, the TUC are upping the stakes from revolutionary candle lighting to insurrectionary letter writing. Thankfully, whilst the trade union movement has been caught with its trousers down, some people did think it was worth mobilising and staging an actual fightback against attacks on the NHS.

Step forward, UK Uncut;
On Saturday 8th October, just four days before the Lords vote, join UK Uncut in a spectacular act of mass civil disobedience to block the bill. By blocking Westminster Bridge we symbolically block the bill from getting from Parliament to our hospitals. Yes, it will be disruptive. Yes, it will stop the traffic. But this is an emergency and we have to shout as loud as we can.

Get to the middle of Westminster Bridge shortly before 1pm. When Big Ben strikes one, pick one of the tactics below and help block the bridge:
  • Bring some fake blood and play dead
  • Bring hospital radio to the bridge with some music and comedy
  • Bring a nurse for a resuscitation skill-share
  • Dress up in scrubs and perform an operation
  • Enjoy a picnic overlooking Parliament
  • Share stories about the the NHS
  • Invite a friend from across the pond to describe the reality of a privatised healthcare system
  • Invite older generations to describe a time before universal healthcare
  • (if you’ve got other good ideas, email them to

Invite everyone you know to the Facebook event, and make sure you click ‘attending’ – the action will only go ahead if 1000 or more people plan to attend. We'll be in close contact with St. Thomas’ before and during the protest to ensure access for emergency vehicles.
It needs to be acknowledged that, on its own, this action will not be enough to force a climbdown over health reforms. In no situation is there one action which will clinch the deal. What we have always needed is a sustained campaign of direct action, relentlessly geared to causing physical and economic disruption. That fact hasn't changed.

But what has changed is that since 26th March, if not before, the workers/anti-cuts movement as a whole has lost considerable momentum (June 30th notwithstanding). This can in large part be put down to the same people who thought that the best response to gutting universal healthcare was to light a few candles. As I've said before, the TUC have always been far more adept than other bodies at demobilising from above, and so when the reins of officialdom passed from the NUS to the TUC it became far easier to derail that troublesome radicalism.

We were never going to see Brendan Barber chased off a march, kettled by those he purports to represent, or hounded to resignation. Trade union bureaucrats have to be more savvy than that quite simply because the complete lack of activity on any front from the NUS meant they were unprepared for any kind of rank-and-file militancy. Not so Barber and his ilk.

Thus it was that we saw such a stupendously pathetic response to the Health and Social Care Bill. There was and is a current of rank-and-file militancy in the unions, which has seen a step up in rhetoric from those who don't want to be outflanked from below, but with officialdom defining that struggle purely in terms of pensions it has not been able to touch the issue of universal healthcare. Even the threat of strikes in the health sector arose over retirement rather than the gutting of an invaluable public service. The bureaucracy has worked hard to control and stifle the struggle and its grip will be difficult to break.

As such, UK Uncut's action is a long overdue direct action intervention into voting on the Health and Social Care Bill. It is a pointed reminder that there are ways to resist without helplessly appealing to those who have class interests that conflict with our own, or resorting to absurd token gestures like putting a picture of a flame in your window. We, as a class, are under attack and it is vital that we fight back. Though their politics are far behind their actions, UK Uncut reminds us that not only can we do that, but we have immense collective power when we do.

I would urge everyone who can attend to make it down to London in order to block Westminster Bridge. But more than that, I would say that we need to escalate from that point as long as everything we've won is under threat. As we head into a potential winter of discontent, we need to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the ruling class.