I find it all too easy to get confused at the moment with so much stuff going on- and that’s not counting the domestic concerns like harvesting the apples or getting the paddy that was our lawn cut for the last time.
But perhaps that’s because a lot of these concerns are inter-related and one thing leads to another.
So when local GJN member Pia Feig, also a member of Keep our NHS Public, was putting together a public meeting with People’s Assembly’s “alternative Fringe” during the Conservative Party Conference she thought Global Justice might contribute. This led to Heidi Chow, being invited and speaking. Heidi was ideal as GJN’s senior campaigns manager and leading on the Pharmaceuticals campaign.
Her talk followed the news of Labour adopting a radical stance with respect to medicines and was entitled “Trading with Trump, what a trade deal will mean for the NHS and Trump”. It followed several activist NHS workers talking about their problems and campaigning where they work and developed people’s understanding of where things appear to be heading.
Heidi had already blogged on the threat to the NHS from American trade aspirations several months ago; she went further in Manchester, updating on the winds blowing to and fro with statements, push-back and denial (perhaps camouflaging under-the-table reformulation of ideas to be brought out later).
She pointed out the converging interests of a post-Brexit Brexiteer government eager to prove it can deliver a trade deal with the US and pressure on Trump to deliver “America First” trade deals as he comes up for reelection next year. Informal trade talks have been already going ahead and she believed it could be ready for signing as early as next July.
As trade deals normally take years one may feel this is likely to be a bit dynamic- simple horse-trading with quid pro quos rather than more careful considerations. The current loss of the Trade Bill with it’s pro-Trade Democracy amendments means the Government can strike and then bring a trade deal to Parliament for a take-it-or-leave-it decision as it has been accused of doing in respect to a “no deal Brexit”. This is in marked contrast to the existing EU system where the European Parliament is intimately involved in setting a mandate and continued scrutiny before voting. The Queen’s Speech contained nothing to dispel such fears.
A changed government (if Labour) might sink such schemes, but should a Tory Brexit happen, Heidi expected a UK-US trade deal very soon.
She pointed out that traditional trade deals’ concerns over tariffs have been replaced by more extensive coverage of topics like “Intellectual property”, environmental regulation and access to public services and giving rights to foreign investors.
She went on to speak of the “negative listing” approach by which everything was up for trade (some might say “grabs”) that wasn’t specifically excluded. In the case of services for the NHS this ranges from portering, cleaning, and maintenance to clinical and testing- perhaps difficult for inexperienced non-hospital experienced trade negotiators to consider without leaving mistakes and loopholes. (Even sophisticated and experienced US negotiators had made about 1000 mistakes on such an exercise!)
The threat of US medicine prices hitting the NHS was no surprise to those of us who have been engaged in the GJN pharmaceuticals campaign. She saw Trump’s blaming the NHS for high medicines’ prices in the US as ridiculous when NICE here is having to ration medicines because of prices. The US explicitly wants high American prices to apply in the UK, thereby threatening the NHS’s work.
Beyond these immediate and more widely known threats she moved on to spell out the implication of corporate courts ( generically know as “Investor State Dispute Settlement”- ISDS). Although the US, already bitten by their rejection in the TTIP scheme, is not pushing these, our government hasn’t excluded them. This is despite their opening the door for massive drains on public healthcare funds, should claims be tabled objecting to healthcare-motivated policy decisions.
But beyond these and more invisible is the threat posed by US corporate take-over of massive NHS data bases which could be transferred to the US and there mined to develop applications that can be sold back to the NHS providing it with diagnostics- not privatisation as usually understood, but nevertheless appropriation of NHS assets which will then be resold, ripping-off the NHS using its own resources; a more sophisticated 21st. century way corporate control can encroach on our NHS!
She said the US objected to any rules restricting cross-border data movement and wanted not only to take our data out of the UK, but then to keep their source code and algorithms.
When she had met Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary John Ashworth he hadn’t appreciate the probable implications of a trade deal with Trump- how much do most back-benchers unless we educate them?
Thanks are due to Heidi for an enlightening and inspiring talk- taking further even those who thought they were boned up on the subject. The only negative was that although those present were the sort of people who can be expected to go out and take the message to their communities and workplaces, we were a minute proportion of the Greater Manchester population who are at risk of these menaces.
The insidious influences of corporate lobbyists are constantly at work gently diffusing their world-view and norms into our society and decision makers’ thinking. To counter this we need to speak out now, whether it’s in relation to the NHS, other public services, the environment and dealing with the Climate Emergency, workers’ rights and conditions, food and chemical standards, animal rights or any one of any number of issues.
We need to speak loudly, clearly and repeatedly. Let’s do it!
We took the message out to the site of Peterloo to generate publicity pictures, generated interest from passers by and were noticed and photographed by tourists.