Sunday, July 16, 2006

Not bad... could do better

That's my verdict on yesterday's NHS SOS demonstration in Birmingham, which started from Dudley Road Hospital and finished up at Centenary Square in the city centre. Called by the North Staffs NHS SOS community campaign, but largely organised by the Socialist Party, it was meant to pull together community activists and hospital workers from across the Midlands region. This is the sort of thing that I support, so I duly hopped on a coach kindly laid on by my local Socialist Party, and headed over to Birmingham.

We arrived following the usual in-journey chat about left-wing sectariana (the demise of Workers' Power is a favourite thème du jour) to find about 200 people assembled ready for the demonstration. These included in the main hospital and blood service workers, as well as people from advocacy groups working on behalf of people with conditions such as MS. The Socialist Party were there in force, as would be expected given it was their baby, the SWP managed to rustle up a few members - although not even a significant fraction of their numbers across the West Midlands - and other notaries included a member of the AWL from Leicester, and a rather desolate looking chap selling Workers Power.

It all started off, we marched, it was noisy, the local media were there, jolly good etc. We eventually reached our destination, got through the various speakers including SP councillors Dave Nellist and Jackie Grunsall, NHS SOS, the MS advocacy group and a couple of others. Then everyone headed off into the Birmingham Midlands Institute for a post-demo meeting about where we go from here. This, whilst interesting, was primarily notable for the magnificent sight of one particular SP luminary and former Militant councillor, famed for his love of beer and hearty meals, wandering into the middle of proceedings (about half an hour late) carrying a plate of sandwiches. He then promenaded statesmanlike around the room, apparently oblivious to the meeting, until he had carefully selected a spot from which to observe the bemused speaker whilst enjoying his lunch.

Overall, it was a good day, but there were problems. Firstly, where was the turnout from the UK's second city? There were coaches from Staffs and Coventry, and the odd person from further afield, but the turnout from Birmingham itself was derisory. There may be some reason for this, but it needs sorting out. Secondly, where were the SWP? They turned out a few members, but nothing like what they're capable of doing when they put their minds to it. They have a lot of members in Birmingham, some of whom work in the health service, who were not there.

Thirdly, where were you, Denham? I know the Jazz Festival's on but still it's a poor show, old chap. Finally, and most importantly, since when do you have a fringe meeting in a building with no bar?

Good start guys, but the campaign needs to gather momentum if it's to become a real force to be reckoned with.


Blogger Simon B said...

Good report. It is worrying that hardly anyone from Birmingham went.200 is low.

There were 300 in Leicester at the demo last week, and a demo in Birmingham should really be bigger. The difference could be that the Leicester demo was organised and built by the local Unison health branch, whereas the Brimingham demo was more of a lefty event.

As to the SWP, there were none at all at the Leicester demo, which I put down to "Marxism" being on at the same time, but if there weren't many there yesterday, maybe they're not very interested in this. No bad thing.

3:18 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

Actually I kinda think it is a bad thing, since the NHS is a cause in which left wing groups are supposed to be interested.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Southpaw said...

I would be interested in what the turn out was from Respect members (other than SWP members). Respect now have a councillor in the city - did she speak? I am presuming Respect have a fair amount of infrastructure in the city to get the support they do - it is a very bad sign if they are not mobilising for bread and butter stuff like this.

5:58 PM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

There were a couple of people with Respect banners, who didn't overtly appear to be members of the SWP; no more than 5 or 6 though - and that includes at least one supporter of the SWP's outrider group "Socialist Resistance".

Salma (who, as I've said before, I think is one of the better people in Respect) wasn't there and didn't speak.

12:05 AM  
Blogger Redaspie said...

Speaking as an SWP member I think we can take it as read that they were all either at Marxism or were so busy building for Marxism that they were flippin' exhausted. Although I can't help thinking they surely could still have built *something* significant.

12:17 PM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

Red; If it had clashed with Marxism I'd have understood. But Marxism was on the previous weekend: this demo was on July 15th.

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Allisfine said...


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12:02 AM  
Blogger Redaspie said...

Voltaire: so they were exhausted. This happens in my neck of the woods quite a bit - there are periods of frenetic activity followed by sudden downturns. Of course, I'm not in Birmingham so I'm guessing. But it seems plausible.

6:27 AM  
Anonymous thomas house said...

You say 'could do better' but the SP ensured that every car in every hospital in Brum got leafleted, and every hospital leafleted internally until we got kicked out by security.

I think that given Unison had told its members to boycott the demo (not wanting to rock the New Labour boat), the rest of the left did nothing (including Respect who could at least have publicised it) and there are engineering works on weekend trains throughout the region there's little we could have done better. It was a good turnout given the circumstances, and your help building the next one would be appreciated.

7:38 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

I wasn't particularly referring to the SP when I said "could do better" ;)

12:16 AM  

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