Protesters against NHS reforms occupy Westminster Bridge
Up to 2,000 UK Uncut activists and health workers join in Block the Bridge, Block the Bill demonstration
Matthew Taylor · 09/10/2011 · guardian.co.uk
A protester against the government’s NHS changes on Westminster Bridge. Photograph: Kerim Okten/EPA
Anti-cuts campaigners and health workers have joined forces in central London in protest against the planned shakeup of the NHS.
More than 2,000 people staged a sit-down protest on Westminster Bridge from 1pm on Sunday to highlight the health and social care bill, which is due to go before the House of Lords this week.
The bridge, normally one of London’s busiest, links St Thomas’s hospital on the southern bank with the Houses of Parliament.
As Big Ben struck 1pm protesters unfurled banners and sat down, blocking the bridge in both directions as hundreds of police looked on.
UK Uncut, the anti-cuts group which organised the Block the Bridge, Block the Bill demonstration, said: “Today has brought together doctors, nurses, parents, students, unions, pensioners and children together in an unprecedented act of mass civil disobedience.
“We are occupying the bridge because the bill would be bad for the NHS, bad for patients and bad for society.”
The protest drew support from people across the UK. Janet Bennett, a pensioner who had travelled down from Liverpool said: “The NHS is so important to people in this country and we need to stand up and protect it from this creeping privatisation, and this is why I am here today.”
Susan Secher, 53, a human resources manager from London said: “Our greatest fear is that the NHS will end up as an insurance-based two- or three-tier system … the bill is being pushed through and this is our last chance to stop it and people are becoming desperate.”
Just after 2pm, protesters dressed up as medics unfurled a banner over the side of the bridge reading “Save our NHS”.
Sam, a therapy radiographer from London, said: “The NHS is the greatest invention in this country’s history, providing universal healthcare for all. If it is sold to private companies this will no longer be the case.”
Margaret Greenwood, 52 from Liverpool said few people — including many politicians — realised the impact the government’s plans would have on the NHS.
“It is so radical that a year or two’s time we might not have a recognisable NHS. It represents a wholesale privatisation and people will be wondering around asking what happened and ‘what do you mean I have to pay?'”
Greenwood, who has been campaigning against the government’s plans for the past 18 months, said her 80-year-old mother was being treated for cancer on the NHS.
“She couldn’t afford to be treated if it weren’t for the NHS, we can’t afford to stand by and let the it be dismantled because in the end it is the most vulnerable who will suffer.”
Later protesters held a “general assembly” in the middle of the bridge, similar to those organised by campaigners on Wall Street, where they discussed future demonstrations against the government’s cuts.
The second reading of the bill on Tuesday and Wednesday has more than 80 peers tabled to speak.
Panic of the Plutocrats
By PAUL KRUGMAN
The New York Times October 9, 2011
It remains to be seen whether the Occupy Wall Street
protests will change America’s direction. Yet the
protests have already elicited a remarkably hysterical
reaction from Wall Street, the super-rich in general,
and politicians and pundits who reliably serve the
interests of the wealthiest hundredth of a percent.
And this reaction tells you something important –
namely, that the extremists threatening American values
are what F.D.R. called “economic royalists,” not the
people camping in Zuccotti Park.
Consider first how Republican politicians have
portrayed the modest-sized if growing demonstrations,
which have involved some confrontations with the police
– confrontations that seem to have involved a lot of
police overreaction – but nothing one could call a
riot. And there has in fact been nothing so far to
match the behavior of Tea Party crowds in the summer of
Nonetheless, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader,
has denounced “mobs” and “the pitting of Americans
against Americans.” The G.O.P. presidential candidates
have weighed in, with Mitt Romney accusing the
protesters of waging “class warfare,” while Herman Cain
calls them “anti-American.” My favorite, however, is
Senator Rand Paul, who for some reason worries that the
protesters will start seizing iPads, because they
believe rich people don’t deserve to have them.
Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor and a
financial-industry titan in his own right, was a bit
more moderate, but still accused the protesters of
trying to “take the jobs away from people working in
this city,” a statement that bears no resemblance to
the movement’s actual goals.
And if you were listening to talking heads on CNBC, you
learned that the protesters “let their freak flags
fly,” and are “aligned with Lenin.”
The way to understand all of this is to realize that
it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy
Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in
their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points
out just how rigged the system is.
Last year, you may recall, a number of
financial-industry barons went wild over very mild
criticism from President Obama. They denounced Mr.
Obama as being almost a socialist for endorsing the
so-called Volcker rule, which would simply prohibit
banks backed by federal guarantees from engaging in
risky speculation. And as for their reaction to
proposals to close a loophole that lets some of them
pay remarkably low taxes – well, Stephen Schwarzman,
chairman of the Blackstone Group, compared it to
Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
And then there’s the campaign of character
assassination against Elizabeth Warren, the financial
reformer now running for the Senate in Massachusetts.
Not long ago a YouTube video of Ms. Warren making an
eloquent, down-to-earth case for taxes on the rich went
viral. Nothing about what she said was radical – it was
no more than a modern riff on Oliver Wendell Holmes’s
famous dictum that “Taxes are what we pay for civilized
But listening to the reliable defenders of the wealthy,
you’d think that Ms. Warren was the second coming of
Leon Trotsky. George Will declared that she has a
“collectivist agenda,” that she believes that
“individualism is a chimera.” And Rush Limbaugh called
her “a parasite who hates her host. Willing to destroy
the host while she sucks the life out of it.”
What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall
Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down,
how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not
John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people
who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes
that, far from delivering clear benefits to the
American people, helped push us into a crisis whose
aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of
millions of their fellow citizens.
Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were
bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached.
They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit
federal guarantees – basically, they’re still in a game
of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they
benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have
people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower
rates than middle-class families.
This special treatment can’t bear close scrutiny – and
therefore, as they see it, there must be no close
scrutiny. Anyone who points out the obvious, no matter
how calmly and moderately, must be demonized and driven
from the stage. In fact, the more reasonable and
moderate a critic sounds, the more urgently he or she
must be demonized, hence the frantic sliming of
So who’s really being un-American here? Not the
protesters, who are simply trying to get their voices
heard. No, the real extremists here are America’s
oligarchs, who want to suppress any criticism of the
sources of their wealth.