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Bevan's legacy needs dogged defending

FATHER of the National Health Service Aneurin “Nye” Bevan famously observed that the NHS would last “as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.”

Tredegar town councillor Mark Turner has that faith, as do his fellow council members and his union Unite, which have all come together to organise a Bevan Day festival to mark the 70th anniversary of what he calls “the best socialist model in the UK.”

Turner — known universally as Pasty, being born in Newlyn and a proud Cornishman — was instrumental in getting the council to mark the birth of the NHS last year with a family day.

“We did the family day and planned to do the same this year, but we decided to do something different because it’s the 70th anniversary,” he says.

The main thing different is that last year’s commemoration day has been transformed into a week of related events, beginning on June 24 with a concert by Tredegar Town Band at the Bedwellty Park bandstand.

Pasty, who is secretary of Unite’s SIMA Wales branch for managerial, professional, technical and administrative staff in manufacturing and is also union convener at Port Talbot steelworks, was contacted by former Aberavon Labour MP Hywel Francis who told him of a specially commissioned orchestral piece for the 70th anniversary of the NHS.

The town band will play the first section of the piece on Sunday July 1 when Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething will speak and Nye Bevan’s great niece Nygaire Bevan will be presented with a lit miner’s lamp by Wayne Thomas, South Wales general secretary of the miners’ union NUM.

She will take it to Parliament to Speaker John Bercow’s chamber on July 5 when the second part of the commemorative piece will be played and the illuminated lamp handed over.

“The idea is that the lamp stays lit until the day the NHS dies as a poignant reminder to everyone to make sure that day never comes,” says Pasty.

Suggestions came thick and fast to make Tredegar’s commemoration more impressive and extensive, including a request to trade unions across South Wales to search out old union banners for a march through the town.

“What we’re asking is for unions to bring out the old banners before union amalgamations. There must be hundreds if not thousands of banners in South Wales, either put away in a cupboard or an attic. It is time for us to start celebrating, so bring these banners out again. That is our heritage,” Pasty declares.

“I know the unions will bring their new banners as well, but we want to celebrate where we were in 1948 when Nye set up the NHS. We wouldn’t be where we are without them.

“Just as we fight to save the NHS we should be fighting to recognise what the NHS was born out of.”

Pasty emphasises that, while Bevan was born in and represented Tredegar, the medical insurance scheme of paying a penny a week to medical associations so that workers and their families could be looked after spread right across the South Wales Valleys.

He also feels the need to let younger generations know about the socialist heroes who represented their area, built the NHS and the welfare state and, he fears, don’t feature in the consciousness of young people today.

“We’d like to play a small part in stirring up the socialist movement in this country because we have a responsibility to reinvigorate it,” he says.

“Jeremy Corbyn’s done a great job firing up the youth politically, but we have to get them involved in the unions and interested in saving the NHS and the welfare state. And that’s partly what this is about.

“Walking round Tredegar talking to people, some don’t have a clue who Nye Bevan is, who Michael Foot [the former Labour leader who followed Bevan as local MP] is and these are people born in the NHS.”

Foot’s successor as both MP and Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, was also born in Tredegar.

Shedding new light for those unaware of the links between Bevan, the NHS and their town, there will be a walk round Tredegar on Saturday June 30, highlighting places of interest related to Bevan’s heritage.

The film Bevan’s Tredegar will be shown in the Little Theatre before the Moose Lodge hosts an evening of poems, pints and pasties, presumably with Pasty’s full approval.

Corbyn will headline the Bevan Day speakers in Bedwellty Park on July 1, joining shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth, Unison Cymru Wales secretary Margaret Thomas, Wales TUC president Shavanah Taj, Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and Wales Labour deputy leader Carolyn Harris.

Before that an exhibition of Bevan-linked memorabilia will be displayed in Bedwellty Park House, along with competition contributions by local children, including oratory, pictures and essays on Bevan and the NHS.

Earlier, on Wednesday June 27, Blaenau Gwent Constituency Labour Party will host a Bevan-based quiz night in Moose Hall.

Organisers had hoped that BBC would site its Question Time programme in Tredegar for Thursday June 28, “but, as with all things BBC, we’ve been left in limbo,” says Pasty.

“If not, we’ll organise our own QT and we’ve sent letters out to the four main parties in Wales to put someone forward and we’re also asking Aneurin Bevan Health Board to attend the event, which will be chaired by Tredegar Mayor Haydn Trollope.”

From Friday to Sunday the TULO organisation of Labour Party-affiliated unions will run a political school alongside the festival.

Tredegar is likely to experience attention from outside its immediate area that it hasn’t seen for some time, but Pasty is anxious that the festival shouldn’t be seen as a one-off celebration.

He worries about the plight of young people today who are denied the benefits his generation has enjoyed — well-paid employment and being able to buy their homes, enjoy holidays and look forward to a comfortable retirement.

The situation of his daughter Alex brings working class reality home to him — “in fact, I’m not happy with the term ‘working class’ these days. I call it the poverty class because you can be in full-time work and still be on benefits.”

Alex previously worked for Wetherspoons on a seven-hour contract. She often toiled for 60 hours a week but was guaranteed just seven hours and had no security.

“If you’re on a zero-hours contract, a seven-hours contract sounds good,” says Pasty grimly.

“Those workers on good jobs, good pay and decent pensions owe that to the trade unions, Labour Party and to those who lost their lives in the second world war for us to have the right to join a union, be part of the union and go on strike.

“There were decent pensions in all big companies. We reaped the fruits of all that hard work, but it’s dying now and the generations coming after us have nothing.

“In the steel works, we contribute 6 per cent of our pay, plus the company gives 10 per cent. Under the government scheme, it’s 1 per cent plus 1 per cent and 1 per cent of a shite wage is shite. You need 12 per cent of decent wages to get a fair return for a proper pension.”

So for him, commemorating Nye Bevan is a means of reminding people of what we once took for granted in Britain and what is worth fighting for again for today’s and future generations.

“I do this because I believe in socialist values. We’re on this Earth once and we have a responsibility to make other people aware of the choices they have,” says Pasty.

“We have a social responsibility to safeguard the NHS, the welfare state and ensure that the generations coming after us understand.”

John Haylett is political editor of the Morning Star. He writes every other Thursday.

Bevan Festival 2018 runs Saturday 24 to Sunday July 1, For more information contact (01495) 722-352, or visit tredegartowncouncil.co.uk. 

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