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The NHS surcharge backdown is a victory for resistance

THE government has been forced into a humiliating reversal of its policy to make immigrant workers in the health service pay a surcharge for using the NHS on top of the National insurance contributions and taxes they already pay.

This imposition was so manifestly unjust, so suffused with the incipient chauvinism and racism which underpins the conscious and unconscious minds of the elite, that it took a while to force the reversal.

Some useful cross-examination by Keir Starmer at PMQs, a division in the Cabinet and among senior Tories outside the hallowed inner circle, a revolt occasioned by the more perceptive of Tory MPs who saw the political dangers that Johnson’s obdurate defence of the policy entailed and a mass outpouring of anger and criticism, made the policy unsustainable.

That it would have gathered such an emotional depth and moral force without the brilliant social-media intervention by Syrian refugee health-service worker Hassan Akkad is a moot point.

The health and care services in normal times are a melting pot of a diverse range of people including many migrants who found themselves in Britain not infrequently because they come from countries where English is spoken as a token of their history as subject peoples of the British Empire.

More are here because they have been driven from their homes by imperial wars in which successive Tory and Lib Dem and New Labour governments have been complicit.

Others are here because the distorted labour market that the European Union has as a founding principle has made even the relatively low pay in the health service a better prospect than that available in their home countries.

It doesn’t matter why or how migrant workers find themselves working alongside people already established here. We are all subject to the dictates of the capitalist labour market where, if we cannot find work, we cannot live without privation. We all have the same interests.

In conditions of coronavirus crisis, the NHS has become the site of a reforged unity of working people compelled by circumstance and choice to act in the interests of the whole of society. This itself is a metaphor for the truth which this crisis makes evident, that the working class has no interests separate from those of society as a whole.

This victory, small though it is in the wider scheme of things, is significant to the many thousands of people who have the burden of this unjust tax lifted but also because it shows what can be done when a powerful moral and political objective is the focus of active campaigning to move public opinion and this is combined with an effective parliamentary intervention.

Irrespective of his performance here Starmer deserves the respect which his mandate entitles him. He deserves this even though he followed those in the Parliamentary Labour Party who demonstrated their hostility to Corbyn and their contempt for a membership which gave him his mandate.

There is little point in pretending that the direction Labour is taking under its new leadership is anything less than a return to a politics which does not threaten the system of ownership or the material basis of ruling class power.

But both the party leadership and those sections of the parliamentary party, the party apparatus and of the mass membership who think that normal service can be resumed — as if the last three years was just an aberration — must take account of the new reality.

The coronavirus crisis lies on top of an already deep crisis of the system that is simply not amenable to piecemeal reforms.


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