Junior doctors struck across England on Tuesday of this week to defend their contracts—and the NHS.
It was the first of three planned walkouts for junior doctors in the British Medical Association (BMA).
They are fighting health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plans to impose a new contract that would slash pay, rip up terms and conditions and put patients at risk.
Nicki, a BMA rep at Whipps Cross in east London told Socialist Worker, “We’re out because Jeremy Hunt is not taking our concerns about patient safety seriously. The new contract would not be safe.”
The picket lines were large and lively and hundreds of “Meet the Doctors” events took place across Britain.
The Tories are refusing to budge on the key issue of robust safeguards against junior doctors working a dangerous amount of hours. Junior doctors already work between 80 and 90 hours a week and many stay after their shifts have finished.
Nicki said, “The simple fact is tired doctors make mistakes—it wouldn’t be safe for patients.”
Hunt and the right wing press are pumping out propaganda about “greedy” doctors living “luxurious” lifestyles.
But in central London, junior doctor Anushka said, “Even if they offered us a 50 percent pay rise tomorrow we’d still be here saying the contracts are unsafe.”
(Junior doctors at Kings College Hospital in south London Vid: Chris Kelly)
Hunt tried to buy the doctors off with an 11 percent pay rise. But Millie, a junior doctor at the Royal London, said, “The 11 percent is just spin. That’s just for normal hours, but I rely on unsocial hours for half of my income.
“So it would still be a pay cut of up to 25 percent.”
The proposed contract would reclassify “unsocial hours”—such as weekends—as “plain hours”.
At the Royal London Hospital in east London around 20 junior doctors leafleted Whitechapel Tube Station.
Up to 100 picketed the hospital’s main entrance—and were joined by a group of student nurses fighting bursary cuts.
Student nurse Anna said. “We’re supporting the junior doctors because this is an attack on the NHS. The Tories are putting profit before people and there won’t be safe levels of staffing for patients.”
The junior doctors are next set to walk out for 48 hours on Tuesday 26 January—potentially alongside London Underground workers.
Hunt’s attack is part of the Tories’ plans to bring in “seven day working” into the NHS. By smashing up workers’ pay and conditions they hope to soften the NHS up for privatisation.
If the Tories can force junior doctors to work nights and weekends without more pay they will roll it out for many other workers.
But the strike shows the growing revolt in the NHS—and acted as a focus for resistance to Tory austerity.
Solidarity in a fight for us all
Many picket lines saw solidarity from patients, students and other trade unionists.
A group of around 40 people marched up to the BMA picket line outside York Hospital. Branches of the Unison, Unite and UCU unions carried their banners and made speeches in support.
Council vehicles appeared in a convoy tooting their horns and waving their union banners from the windows. Some of the unwashed vehicles had “Solidarity with the NHS” handwritten in the dirt.
Around 100 strikers and supporters rallied at the picket line outside Manchester Royal Infirmary.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of TSSA union, was on the Whipps Cross picket line in east London. He told Socialist Worker, “If we don’t take a stance now, the things we hold dear such as the NHS will be things of the past.”
Yannis Gourtsoyannis, who sits on the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee, was on the University College Hospital (UCH) picket line in central London. He told Socialist Worker, “What’s really heartened us is the support from local trade unionists, patients and the public.
“I’m very confident that we can win.”
Every trade unionist and campaigner needs to build solidarity for the next walkouts,
And Unison, Unite, GMB and the other health unions should ballot their members immediately and join the growing NHS revolt.
Yannis said, “Our struggle is a key struggle for everyone.If we lose the Tories will come for other health workers—that’s why we need to win.”
‘Most patients support us’
Pickets were very well-organised in Oldham, with a gazebo, camping stove, packed lunches, hot porridge, tea, and plenty of cake.
There was a positive mood among 15 junior doctors picketing at Southmead Hospital, in Bristol.
People beeped their horns and other workers came to get stickers in support.
At Chelmsford in Essex, a BMA rep said, “It’s been a long battle. Most patients are supportive but there is a lot of scaremongering out there particularly from the press.”