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Placards at the Tyneside 'Save Our NHS' demo

A sea of placards at the Tyneside 'Save Our NHS' demo. Photo: Mark Husmann

Newcastle says unite and fight as doctors and teachers march together to 'Save Our NHS' saying, 'Hunt Out! Cameron Must Go!'

Over a thousand people took to the streets of Newcastle on Saturday in a march and rally to 'Save Our NHS' with both a 'Junior Doctors Bloc', and an 'Education Bloc' organised by Northern Region NUT.

Initiated by North East People’s Assembly in a show of public support for the junior doctors' dispute, the protest received the backing of the BMA, NHS campaign groups, Northern TUC, the Green Party & local Labour MPs, including Easington MP Grahame Morris who spoke at the rally. Morris recalled joining the Jarrow to parliament 'People's March for the NHS' in 2014 and said, "It's a disgrace that [the NHS] is being undermined and attacked by Jeremy Hunt.

Joanne Land from campaign group 999 Call for the NHS, who personally marched the 300 miles from Jarrow to London, told how the Health & Social Care Act means that no part of the NHS is safe from the private sector and that private companies are winning more & more NHS contracts.

Assembling at Newcastle university medical school, the protest won huge support from Saturday's shoppers as it wound its way through Haymarket & Northumberland St to the historic Grey's monument rallying point.

Peter Stefanovic, a medical negligence lawyer and supporter of the junior doctors' case travelled up from London to take part in the rally. He summed up the mood of protesters, who were clearly further incensed by the Mossack Fonseca'Panama Papers' tax dodging revelations of recent days: "This government cares nothing for truth," he raged, "it cares nothing for honesty and it cares nothing for justice. The government has declared war on the people of this country. It's time for us all to stand together and fight back together!"

Letwin

Recognising the many attacks being launched by the Tories, Dave Telford, northern Regional Officer of Unite the Union, pledged full support for the junior doctors' campaign, but drew attention to "this rotten government" which he said had done "nothing to help" Tata Steel workers at Port Talbot.

Speaking for Keep Our NHS Public North East, local GP Helen Groom said that the NHS had been under sustained attack since the 1980s. She recalled Tory MPs Oliver Letwin and John Redwood publishing a document calling the NHS 'Britain's Biggest Enterprise'. The Tories "do not believe in a socialised health service" she said.

In one of the most heartfelt and well-received speeches Claire Williams, Unison Northern Regional Convenor, said the junior doctors' strike is a strike for everyone. "That's why it's important that everyone stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the junior doctors until they win this dispute!" She said the Tories didn't care that the NHS was one of the most effective in the world because the government is "committed to free market capitalism" - it sees money and pound signs on everything, she said, and puts profit before people!

"It's OUR NHS, it's OUR public services and we need to be making it clear that WE own them! We're not going to hand them over to Virgin and to Capital and to Circle!"

Williams also highlighted the impact of Tory cuts on the north east, with tens of thousands of public sector jobs lost, the closure of libraries and Sure Start centres and much more.

Daniel Kebede of North Tyneside NUT told of the 2,000-signature letter of support junior doctors had passed to teachers at NUT conference in support of their upcoming strike ballot. Teachers and junior doctors recognised that their struggles were linked by the Tories ideological attacks on public services. That's why we marched together today, he said, and why we must fight and strike together.

"A year ago I was an ordinary doctor living in London delivering babies," declared Johann Malawana, chair of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee. What doctors want to do is provide a safe service for their patients. But, he said, somehow this government has poked at what was probably a "sleeping bear" over this past eight months and "they've managed to piss off a generation of doctors!"

If the Tories want a 7-day NHS, he said, Jeremy Hunt should "pay for it, test it, work it out, staff it! Don't just try and do it on the back of the frontline staff!" It was simply a political agenda that was unfunded, untested and completely wrong. And appealing for continued public support he finished by saying, "We are going to stand up for our patients, we will stand up for every one of you, please stand up for us!"

Attacks

Closing the rally, junior doctor Peter Campbell, Secretary of the BMA's regional junior doctors' committee declared: "what changes things is industrial action. The government continues to make wrong choices. It continues to impose a contract that is not safe and not fair,” he said, "So we make a choice. And we have voted for industrial action. And we will take industrial action again, and again until the government begins to listen!”

During the rally there were huge cheers when it was announce that Downing Street was being besieged by demonstrators protesting about the tax-dodging revealed in the Panama Papers and the links were drawn between the junior doctors dispute, the upcoming ballots for action by teachers, the attacks on the NHS and the greed and lies of the rich, backed by the Tory government.

Calls to support next weekend's People's Assembly march for Health, Homes, Jobs and Education were well received & many in the crowd signed up to join the Newcastle coaches to the demonstration. So the #4demands of next Saturday's march and rally will join together with the one demand that 'Cameron Must Go!'

The Newcastle 'March to Save Our NHS' was jointly organised and supported by: North East People's Assembly, Momentum Tyne and Wear, The BMA junior doctors committee, 999 Call For the NHS, Keep Our NHS Public North East, North East Green Party, Unison Northern Region, Unite the Union, Northern Public Services Alliance, Northern TUC and the North East Socialist Singers.

Tony Dowling

Tony Dowling

Tony Dowling is a teacher, socialist, trade unionist, antifascist, anti-war & anti-cuts activist. He is currently chair of North East People's Assembly and a member of Counterfire.

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