Mobilise Unions to demand: Free Healthcare for All Citizens!

20-02-2016 – Step by step, cut by cut, Australia’s health care system is being ripped from the hands of working people. Federal “Health” Minister Susan Ley announced a $650 million cut to Medicare incentive payments as a “Merry Christmas” gift at the end of last year. It will likely lead to up-front costs for pathology tests, blood and urine tests, pap smears, imaging and ultrasound services.[1] This comes on top of 23 medical procedures slated for “review” – read: cut – from Medicare. But these 23 are just the first of a projected 5700 items in the line of the razor.[2] Make no mistake; the aim is not just the abolition of bulk billing, but the complete dismantling of Medicare, or anything resembling public health care in this country. To say that the end result will be a user-pays US style “health” system is no understatement.

Working people should be under no illusions – the real cause of the savage attacks on basic public services such as healthcare is not the ideological predilections of the Liberal Party, for the Labor Party (ALP) and the Greens are offering scant resistance. The real cause is the deep and ongoing economic crisis of the capitalist system, which has ravaged the US and Europe since 2008. If Australia has avoided a Greece or Spain type economic catastrophe, it is due in no small part to extensive trade links with the still growing socialist led Chinese economy. Red China’s enormous economy props up, and feeds, sparks of growth in the faltering “free enterprise” of the West. Yet even China’s vast resources will not be enough to significantly re-start production on these shores. Consequently, Australia’s capitalist class and their political servants deem it natural that ANY social spending which is not directly related to assistance for the accumulation of private profit for the corporate elite shall be cut, and cut mercilessly. As has been the case with previous cuts, the latest health care cuts will disproportionately affect women, pensioners, all those on lower incomes and their children. It is no less than economic warfare.

There needs to be an immediate, robust and unrelenting offensive movement, not just to “defend Medicare”, but for an entirely free and universal health care system. Such a system must come primarily at the expense of the profits of the banks, mining companies and other corporate conglomerates, many of which currently escape paying any tax at all. This movement needs to be led by those with the social power and class interest to do so – the Trade Unions, which can then draw in unorganised labour, pro-working class students, pensioners and others. Yet sitting atop the Unions we find an overpaid and self-satisfied labour bureaucracy – officials who build their careers and handy superannuation nest eggs by suppressing, not enabling, workers’ struggle. As ever, the crisis of the labour movement is the crisis of its leadership – with barely one official even raising a murmur against the rapidly deteriorating health care system. For example, take the Queensland Nurses Union Secretary Beth Mohle. Speaking in relation to a report about the poor performance of Queensland hospitals in relation to waiting times, Mohle stated that she believed the Australian public “would be prepared to pay higher taxes to continue with the high quality health and education services that we have now.”[3] Like hell !! With the amount of tax working people already pay, free health care and education is already justified. This complete lack of perspective of class struggle gels with a wealthy Union official’s complete distance from the hardships of the life of working people.

The indifference of the Union officials, however, only exists as far as working people allow it – inside and outside the respective Unions. Unions, unlike the governments and parliaments of the rich, are based on the working class – the funds and organisation of workers themselves. This is why Union leaderships can be “pressured” into taking action, given sufficient organisation. The federal, state and local governments, on the other hand, are but committees for managing the affairs of the ruling class, to quote a famous figure. They are not accountable to working people, no matter how many demands are laid at their feet. Focusing on lobbying them can only lead to paralysis before the campaign has even begun.

A huge danger for the campaign against the cuts is that is that it will be railroaded into an effort to elect an ALP/Greens Federal government, with elections due this year. In fact, indications are that this perspective has already become dominant. National rallies against the Medicare cuts have been called for February 20 – a Saturday. Make no mistake, rallies and demonstrations are necessary. However, a rally on a Saturday or Sunday means there can be virtually no workplaces that take industrial action and walk out to join the demonstration. It is the weight of the workers which will be decisive in this struggle – as in many others. The ruling class can sustain any number of rallies on a weekend, which involve no industrial action, in which any number of people attend. Even a rally of millions on a weekend has no discernible impact on the financial aristocracy, because such an action is aimed at pleading, even begging, with the government. What is urgently required is a national campaign of industrial action, up to and including general strikes. If this was to occur, it would be the workers who would be bargaining from a position of strength. Plaintive appeals of “stop the cuts” – to those who are already carrying them out – is profoundly disempowering.

In practice, unfortunately, the latter strategy is the one often imposed on actions by representatives of the ALP, the Greens and Union officialdom. They are supported in this perspective by some left parties who help organise “These cuts are killing us” actions. Such left groups would argue that it is necessary to build a “broad”, “inclusive” movement which can mobilise the most numbers. They would claim – the more numbers, the more “broad” the political forces, the more “unity”, the more likelihood of success. Yet this is profoundly mistaken. Politics does not work by numbers alone, and positively malfunctions where there is “unity” between progressive and conservative elements. What is decisive are the two basic classes of capitalist society – labour and capital. If working people are mobilised alongside, and march side by side with political forces which do not share their aims – in this case, the ALP, the Greens and the Union bureaucracy – the movement can only bolster the fortunes of those pushing to privatise health care. In this case, such a movement will be used by the more conservative political forces for their aims – the election of an ALP/Greens government.

Needless to say, an ALP/Greens government will NOT deliver free health care, or anything approaching it. Therefore, the campaign for free health care must not be politically subordinated to those parties, or its allies in the Union bureaucracy. Working people need to demand free health care without qualification. They need to demand their Unions mobilise workers independently of all parliamentary parties and those that serve them. Such a campaign would link up with the already overstretched nurses and doctors who are still in what remains of public healthcare. Based on the mobilisation of labour, it could draw in supporters who rely on, and would politically support a universal healthcare system – students, pensioners, retirees and others. Such a movement would then also be in a position to demand public spending on other vital services such as education and public transport.

In the course of this struggle, we would do well to recognise the two countries which have the best free and universal health care systems in the world – the Republic of Cuba, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Cuba’s free healthcare system has long been recognised the world over, and Cuba is renowned for sending doctors and medical teams overseas to aid impoverished countries. Less well known, but just as effective, is the universal and free health care system in the DPRK. Yet these universal healthcare systems come courtesy of their respective socialist revolutions which overthrew capitalism and consigned it to the dustbin of history. The victory of socialism will be the ultimate guarantee of free healthcare.



Workers League

PO BOX 66   NUNDAH   QLD   4012


[1] (28-01-2016)

[2] (28-01-2016)

[3] (ibid)

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