The moment when the People’s March for the NHS rounded the corner of Mansfield market square on Wednesday 27th August was incredibly moving. The shops had shut by 5:30pm, so the square was fairly quiet apart from the crowd gathered around a small stage to welcome the marchers. Their arrival completely transformed the atmosphere: they arrived chanting slogans, wearing fluorescent vests and determined expressions, and carrying traditionally decorated banners.
Seeing those banners crafted by the NUM Ex and Retired Mineworkers Assocation and other unions felt like a glimpse into the past, when Mansfield hosted huge demonstrations in the mid 1980s during the miners’ strikes. We have a proud history of struggle, and here we are again protesting against more closure and sell-off. This time we are protesting against the erosion of our National Health Service through privatisation.
We have a local vested interest in preserving the NHS as it is: the miners of Mansfield and district helped build it through their taxes, believing it would be there for themselves, their children and grandchildren and the common good. So they are rallying to support a march headed up this time by women: 30 mums from Darlington walking the route of the 1936 Jarrow march, 300 miles from Jarrow to London. Both groups – ex and retired miners and mums – stand to loose the most from the current asset-stripping of the NHS, and it was inspiring to see such different groups come together under a common cause.
I stayed for the music, drama and some of the speeches, but small children’s needs dragged us away before the crowd broke up. I took away new pride in our town, and fresh determination to defend what’s ours. I just hope that the momentum this march is gathering as it approaches London on the 6th September sends a strong enough message to Westminster that we’ve had enough: it’s our NHS, free and fair for all, and we want it to stay that way.