Junior doctors across England had been set to walk out for 12 hours on Tuesday of this week, in the first of three planned walkouts.
But unfortunately the doctors’ British Medical Association (BMA) organisation suspended its programme of industrial action for talks at the last minute.
Many junior doctors are “frustrated”, “shocked” and “disappointed” with the BMA’s decision.
Niki is a junior doctor working in east London.
“This was a result of our pressure. But they could have gone ahead without seeming unreasonable, but I understand why we agreed to negotiations.
“But my overwhelming feeling is disappointment.”
Many only found out through the news or social media.
Junior doctor Rory from Manchester told Socialist Worker, “I’m pretty shocked that it was suspended at such short notice. It’s a bit frustrating and not what we would expect from the BMA.”
Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt plans to impose new contracts that would tear up terms and conditions and put patient safety at risk.
The BMA’s junior doctors’ committee withdrew from negotiations in August.
Junior doctors began organising across Britain and delivered a 98 percent vote to strike last month.
But following last minute talks at the Acas conciliation service the BMA agreed to suspend industrial action until 13 January.
The junior doctors’ revolt put Hunt under massive pressure. Solidarity was coming in from across the trade union movement.
Hunt claimed to offer a pay increase in November but the BMA rejected this.
He didn’t want to agree to Acas negotiations without him but stepped aside last week so talks could resume.
But the BMA blinked first.
The “memorandum of understanding” signed by the BMA, NHS Employers and the Department of Health agrees that a “return to direct and meaningful negotiations” is the “right way forward.”
While it promises to negotiate on pay and safeguard against working dangerous hours, Hunt’s “cost neutral” November offer is still the basis for negotiation.
Hunt is playing a smoke and mirrors game to defuse the dispute. As east London GP Jackie Applebee said, “Jeremy Hunt is hoping that the momentum will fizzle out over Christmas.”
He gloated last night that the strike suspension was a “victory for common sense”.
This is part of the government’s long term plans to smash all health workers’ pay and soften the NHS up for privatisation.
The Tories have no intention to back down from that.
Rory said, “We didn’t want to take industrial action and it’s good that Hunt has agreed to negotiation.”
But junior doctors are also clear that a fair and safe contract has to come out of talks.
“If it doesn’t then the BMA should call another strike,” said Rory.
Niki added, “We’ve been messed around before by the government. This has galvanised us and they’d want to do anything to prevent us showing our strength in numbers.”
Activists have to make sure that the momentum is not broken. In east London they were out leafleting this morning. Jackie said, “We gave out 1,000 leaflets saying the fight’s still on and they flew out of our hands.
“We spoke to two junior doctors who were very angry and feel the rug’s been pulled from under their feet—but they were buoyed by the fact we were there.”
Junior doctors at Whipps Cross Hospital, east London, went ahead with a lunchtime rally on Tuesday of this week. Passing cars and ambulances tooted their horns in support.
And this Friday activists have organised a demonstration in central London.
Niki said, “I want to thank everyone at Whipps Cross in Unison and Unite who we’ve built links and demonstrated with.
“We’re going to keep those up and if we strike in January we’ll be in a good position.”
Activists should keep organising events and holding demonstrations. It was wrong to pull strikes.
Keep up the pressure—and get the action back on.