Big Flame

1970-1984

EPISODES IN BIG FLAME HISTORY: No 23. Health

Posted by archivearchie on November 23, 2009

Previous episodes in this series examined Big Flame’s overall approach to workplace interventions and the specific sectors of the motor industry (see Episode Episode 3) and education (see Episode 13). This one focuses on the Health sector.

The period of Big Flame’s life (1970-84) saw many dramatic developments in the health sector in Britain.

1973-74: Waves of militancy around pay, first by ancillary workers, then nurses.

1974: Reorganisation of the health service to promote centralisation and the philosophy of corporate management.

1977 onwards: New system of resource allocation used to produce cuts. Hospital closures; bed closures; increased workloads for NHS staff.

1982-83: Another reorganisation, this time to decentralise responsibility. Rise of general management. Domestic, catering and laundry service in hospitals put out to tender. There was an expansion of private practice within NHS hospitals.

In the early to middle 1980s a substantial number of Big Flame members were active in health care struggles. By the late 1970s this had reduced to only a few. Some of these had a major impact within the sector. One BF member was involved in the occupation of Hounslow hospital in west London when it was scheduled for closure in 1977, and the launch of Fightback, a national campaign against health cuts in 1978.

Big Flame saw health and not just a workplace issue. It believed that as every aspect of our lives is distorted by capitalism, we need all need to take an interest in issues of health care and the prevention of illness.

These are few examples of BF discussions of health issues:

The first is an article from Big Flame Journal no2 Winter 1975-76: Hospitals: our health is not for sale.

This sets out to examine the reasons why hospital workers had become more militant, with many quotes from such workers. Events of the spring 1973 are mentioned in detail. The article sees the crisis in the NHS as part of a general crisis, and maintains the workers and patients should not have to pay for it.

The second is a document form the 1976 conference: London Hospitals Report.

The work of a BF base group at a London hospital is described. Events at the hospital are placed in the context of the restructuring of capital and developments at the level of the Area Health Authority. There is a discussion of why the base group was formed. The process of how it changed from a group of external militants to one person working inside the hospital is mentioned, but not explained. The report concludes with proposals of actions Big Flame could undertake in relation to hospital struggles.

Finally, some linked articles form Revolutionary Socialism no4 Winter 1979-80: Health.

The overall theme is alternative forms of health care. The “Introduction” highlights themes from the two articles, and argued for the need to combine fighting against the cuts with the struggle for a different kind of health service. “Popular Health” consists of an interview with a doctor and a community health worker from a health group in South East London. They talk about the things they have been able to achieve, and the potential impact of threatened cuts. “Health Care in China” is an assessment based on a visit to China in 1978. It describes what was in many ways a different approach from that adopted in the west, and concludes that whilst things were far from perfect, there had been a lot of progress.

Archive Archie

Note: Titles of articles or documents in red and bold are links to the full version. Press on them to bring up a PDF of the document.

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