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THE 75th anniversary of the National Health Service on July 5 was marked early when hundreds of campaigners and workers marched through the streets of Leeds in a Northern March for the NHS on Saturday.
Speakers at rallies before and after the march voiced fury at the government’s attempts to wreck the NHS and pledged to continue the battle to defend it.
The celebration was organised by NHS campaign groups and backed by the TUC and dozens of trades councils and trade union branches.
Around 300 marchers with trade union and campaign banners raised were led by the Public and Commercial Services union’s samba band, and up to another 200 people were estimated to have joined the march as it progressed through the busy city centre.
Addressing a pre-march rally in front of Leeds Town Hall, John Stewart of rail union RMT said: “The government is determined to smash the trade union movement.
“We are behind you,” he told NHS workers and unions.
Retired GP and Doctors in Unite member Helen Trude urged the rally not to forget the Liberal Democrats’ role in the 2010 alliance with the Tories which introduced the Health and Social Care Act which accelerated the wrecking of the NHS, and attacked the government’s denial of treatment to migrants unless they paid.
“If it continues it will not just be migrants they are charging,” she said. “It will be you.”
Rhian Wheater, a Leeds nurse and Royal College of Nursing (RCN) steward, said in a hard-hitting speech: “I am sick of having to decide who receives pain relief.”
She said that although an RCN reballot on strike action failed to reach the statutory 50 per cent turnout demanded under ant-union laws, 102,000 nurses voted to strike.
“We will keep fighting,” she said. “We must stay united. The RCN will stand united with other unions. We must be ready to come back for the next pay claim. We are going to fight.”
Leeds MP Richard Burgon said the rally sent a clear message to the government.
“The NHS is not for sale. It is not your NHS. It is our NHS.”
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