My call for civil disobedience around the time of the Olympic Games caused a media storm last week. Nick Clegg was “gobsmacked”. David Cameron called me “unpatriotic”. I couldn’t care less about their criticism. Clegg is busy dismantling the legacy of those great Liberals Keynes and Beveridge, the architects of the welfare state and full employment. Cameron’s patriotism is of the sort that Samuel Johnson had in mind when he warned of the “last resort of the scoundrel”.
And in just thirteen days the two of them could have steamrollered the Health Bill into law – flying in the face of overwhelming opposition from the public, health professionals and supporters of all parties.
With the very soul of our NHS at stake, ordinary people will be lobbying MPs and rallying in Westminster today. Their message will be simple – we want a health service that is based on the needs of the many, not the profits of few. But I know that some taking part today will be confused by last week’s hype around my remarks.
Let me be clear – I want a successful Olympic Games in London. But I want much more than just a “feelgood” fortnight. I want a country to be proud of the whole year round with a decent NHS. Because Britain today is two countries. It is the nation which will welcome the world to a magnificent Olympic Games. And it is also a country with a greedy corporate elite and a government assaulting everything it took generations of working people to build.
A country of lengthening dole queues, with more than a million young people jobless – another “forgotten generation”. But it is also a country where those who caused the crisis – the speculators and bonus-drunk bankers – still carry on business as usual. It is a place where a Unite community activist had to stop a meeting on a housing estate because one person there was overcome for lack of food.
So if I sound angry, it is because I am. We all should be. The time for quiet words and relying on reasoned argument alone is past.
Because we are fighting for our heritage. It was our parents and grandparents who, after defeating the evil of fascism, came home and built a welfare state and a National Health Service to banish the spectre of the “hungry thirties” for good.
Now the greatest of that generation’s achievements, the NHS, is on the point of privatisation. American corporate vultures are and ready to pounce. We know where this leads to – the millions in the USA without health insurance. We are fighting for the very soul of our NHS against a government who arrogantly ignores the will of the people. This is why we need to come together for one last push to kill this disastrous bill before it is too late. I want working people to feel confident in their own strength to make Olympics Britain a world-beating society. With an NHS offering better care and treatment. An education system which allows everyone the chance to reach their full potential. Dignity for our pensioners. Investment in our homes, industries and communities.
The super-rich and big business – if they only paid their taxes like the rest of us – could help fund this future. Those are the gold medals we should be aiming for. And no Olympian ever won without standing firm, working hard and conquering fear.
That message is the torch I want to see carried around our country.
Len McCluskey is the General Secretary of Unite the Union.