The 92-year-old talks to USi about work, unions and the importance of the NHS

Harry Leslie Smith

Harry Leslie Smith

Harry Leslie Smith has become a celebrity in the Labour movement.

The 92-year-old NHS campaigner and author was thrust into the media spotlight at last year’s Labour Conference, and is currently touring the UK’s marginal constituencies, courtesy of Unite, talking about his experience of life in the Great Depression.

One of his earliest memories is of being taken to a trade union meeting by his father.

“Unions were not that big in those days,” he says, “and the benefits were minuscule compared to what is needed today to maintain a civilised society.

“It’s important to be in a trade union because they are the only people who are a bulwark against the employers who are there for profit, not for the benefit of their workers.

“Unions protect workers and have an important role in the new world that I hope is coming.”

Harry’s generation is credited with making a new world in the aftermath of the Second World War, which is why the NHS is such a passion for him.

“The NHS is my generation’s legacy to our world,” he says. “It’s been the worst thing for me to see it being chiselled away bit by bit until it’s just a ghost of what it was originally intended to be.

“I feel sad because as my generation has become old we’ve neglected to be vigilant against people trying to break down the society we originally built.

“If you lived in the world I lived in, a world before the NHS, when healthcare was only for the rich and privileged, when you couldn’t go to a hospital or doctor when you were ill, you were either dependent on old fashioned remedies or you died.

“Rickets and TB was prevalent throughout England. Everywhere you went at that time there were people with crippled backs, hunched backs. It was a disfiguring and painful disease.

“When people have an illness now they can go to the doctors and be treated on the NHS. If that doesn’t exist, then you’re on your own because the wealthy will still have their private clinics, but for the poor, it’s death or good luck.”

During his tour of the country, Harry urges people to vote for Labour, saying: “If Labour win, I’m sure we will find there is more justness in society, more fair play, people will have more say in how their lives are, and this is how it should be.”

* You can buy Harry’s Last Stand here.

 


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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