Friday, June 27, 2014

TTIP of the Iceberg that could wreck NHS

DEFENDING NHS. Public meeting in Hanwell Methodist Church, part of campaign to save Ealing Hospital services. Now Ealing trades unionists have warned NHS is under threat from secret negotiations for Transatlantic Free Trade pact. 
(photo Raj Gill)

IF you had asked me a few weeks ago what I thought about TTIP, you'd have got a blank stare or maybe me turning away thinking you were trying to flog me some finance or insurance scheme.

If you'd managed to tell me the initials stood for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, I might not have been much the wiser, even if you'd added that this is also called the Transatlantic Free Trade Area.

Governments and their media supporters rely on people like me being lulled into apathy over stuff that we don't think affects us, or distracted by sensationalised trivia, while they get on with doing what they like.

Fortunately, in between the Euro-elections and the FIFA world cup, friends have started to  put me right. This TTIP is not just some technical arrangement concerning tariffs and trade. It would very much affect things that concern me and you.

At its heart is a move to enable big business interests to dominate  countries, not only through influence, corruption and lobbying, but by law. Companies could take elected governments to court over anything which restricted their ability to profit. They could roll back legislation protecting the environment, food standards, workers' rights, safety at work - something of which we have already had a taste in this government's moves to deregulate and cut inspections - and provision of health services.

It is reported today that 'The European Union's trade commissioner Karel De Gucht has denied that the mooted trade deal between the EU and the US will give multinational corporations power over incumbent governments. Speaking at an event in London, De Gucht said that he will "launch a public consultation on exactly how the EU should approach these discussions"'.

We have already seen this Con Dem coalition taking steps to remove laws which get in the way of "fracking" companies. If the Tories and Lib Dems are happy with TTIP, Labour too is arguing that it will bring prosperity and be good for jobs. But the Labour Party admits there could be dangers for the NHS.

'The UK's shadow trade and investment minister Ian Murray has said that Labour will withdraw its support for the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) if safeguards are not inserted to protect public services including the NHS from US investors.

In an interview with IBTimes UK, Murray also said there is "no case" for including investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) instruments in the free trade agreement between the EU and US.

If included in TTIP, ISDS would allow multinationals to take legal proceedings against EU governments for loss of profits due to public policy decisions.

Asked whether Labour support was dependent on both these items being excluded, Murray replied: "That's certainly the position of the Social Democrat members of the European Parliament, and Labour is part of that. They're very much of the view that the general utilities reservation [which would exempt public services] and ISDS are the red lines for them – and for us as well."'

We have already seen how the last Labour government introduced the Tory idea of Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs), helping open areas of the service to private profit, and saddling hospitals with debts for which cuts are having to be made. With Con Dem policy treating health provision as just another business, the way would be open under the TTIP for big multinational companies to move in, claiming any requirements privileging the NHS were an unfair restriction on their right to profit.  

In the week before Ian Murray spoke to the press, thee annual conference of trades union councils in England and Wales,meeting in Cardiff on the weekend of June 14-15,  adopted this Emergency Motion from Ealing trades council in west London, one of the areas where people are resisting the cuts: 

Emergency Motion 2:
TTIP - The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Conference notes EU elections appear to have reinforced the likelihood of the TTIP being adopted, which could be a disaster for the NHS.

If the EU and the US agree to TTIP without excluding the NHS from its provisions, the result could mean the end of the NHS as a public service. Corporations could permanently have the legal right to run health services with or without approval of the British Government. The marketisation of the NHS under the Health and Social Care Act means that the NHS will no longer be categorised as a ‘public service’ and would therefore be included in the provisions of the TTIP which restrict or prevent national governments from determining how industries are run. TTIP can override not only health and safety, but pay arrangements, union agreements and other basic standards. The markets take legal priority.

We endorse the concerns that have been expressed by TUC General Secretary Frances O Grady, and many labour movement figures and health campaigns.

Therefore as secret negotiations on TTIP continue, we call on the TUC and Trades Councils to make this a key national and local campaigning issue in the coming weeks and months. We need to urgently alert the public to this threat to our NHS and as well highlight the dangers of the huge power of transnational corporations under TTIP and other agreements.

War on Want has produced a booklet by John Hilary warning against the TTIP, and called a series of meetings and events around the country as part of a campaign:

8 July, Birmingham, 7pmBerta Wright Room, Carrs Lane Centre, B4 7SX (map) - sign up via Facebook here

9 July, Manchester, 7pmNW UNISON Regional Centre, Arena Point, 1 Hunts Bank, M3 1UN (map) - sign up via Facebook here

10 July, London, 7pmMander Hall, NUT, Hamilton House, WC1H 9BD (map) - sign up via Facebook here

12 July, national day of action: No TTIP! events planned for around the country - sign up here

Make TTIP a national and local campaigning issue, says trades councils' conference resolution

(photo Charlie Pottins)

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