Socialist Worker

Junior doctors strike shows how to take on the Tories

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans, Rhetta Moran, Tim Knight-Hughes and Sheila Amrouche
Issue No. 2490

Pickets in Newcastle

Pickets in Newcastle (Pic: Geoff Abbott)


A junior doctors’ strike has challenged Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plans to push through more attacks on the NHS today, Wednesday. This was the second 24-hour strike by junior doctors in the British Medical Association (BMA).

Across Britain the picket lines were as strong as during last month’s walkout. And this time student nurses, midwives and other healthcare students in London and other cities walked out in solidarity for one hour.

At the Homerton hospital in east London 50 junior doctors and supporters picketed the two main entrances and leafleted the nearby train station.

Hunt is trying to push through new contracts that would rip apart terms and conditions and put patient safety at risk.

They would crucially remove financial penalties on hospital bosses who overwork junior doctors. Junior doctor Kat said, “This is about protecting patient safety. Tired doctors make mistakes.”

Danny, a junior doctor, said. “We’ve been forced into industrial action again because they only seem to hear us when we threaten strikes.

“The bottom line is that imposition of the contracts is not acceptable—it’s not fair on the NHS or junior doctors.”

Supporters had written messages on a banner which the junior doctors carried on a march to the town hall.

Around 150 people joined an indoor strike rally in central Manchester, with speakers from the Unison union, the FBU firefighters union, Disabled People Against Cuts and a Labour councillor.

Marched

Around 200 junior doctors and supporters marched from the UCH picket lines in central London to hold a rally by the administration building.

Sandy Nicoll from Soas Unison told the rally, “They have got a privatisation agenda I’m here with my union branch to show we won’t let that happen.”

Hunt has said that he could impose the new contract as early as tomorrow. But a united fight could push back the Tories.

Danielle, a leading student nurse said, “It’s been absolutely amazing—we weren’t expecting so many places to join in.

“The Tories think they can divide us but they have picked on the wrong group of people—we’re fighting together for the NHS.”

Yannis Gourtsoyannis, who sits on the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee, said, “The BMA and our members will not accept imposition. They have the stomach for a long fight.

“This is eminently winnable, but how easily that happens will depend on other health workers too.”

Unison’s health service group executive also met today.

The left argued that Unison should demand the employers rule out attacking health workers’ unsocial hours pay. If no guarantee was received the union should begin a dispute alongside the junior doctors.

But the right blocked the move arguing to wait until an attack on health workers' unsocial hours pay is announced.  

Hunt is intent on driving through privatisation—only further and escalating strikes can beat back their attacks,


Defiance on the picket line in Wythenshawe 

The message is clear in Wythenshawe

The message is clear in Wythenshawe (Pic: Rhetta Moran)


Several hundred junior doctors struck at the Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester and the strike was completely solid apart from negotiated emergency cover.

Sarah Lawrence from Cheshire, a third year junior doctor, said, “If Jeremy Hunt thinks that he is going to wear us down he is sadly mistaken. We have statistics, we have public support, and we have the solidarity of the profession on our side."

Leonie Walker from Bristol, a first year junior doctor, said, “It’s not just about junior doctors. They've started with us, but if they get away with this, the rest of the NHS and the rest of public services will be next”.


Debating how to escalate in Norwich

Banner on the picket line in Norwich

Banner on the picket line in Norwich (Pic: Tim Knight-Hughes)


Junior Doctors were out in force on well attended, confident picket lines this morning.

We took down solidarity tea and a collection.

The trades council and Unite union banners were down at the picket, as was the Keep Our NHS Public campaign.

And it was well supported. Strikers also gathered near the major roundabout with a big banner and got massive support from the cars going past.

BMA rep Bob said public opinion was important, but that they needed the industrial action to escalate and really shut down services to win. This isn't the position of the BMA as a whole.

Bob said he was striking for his children and for working class people due to the changes going on the NHS. He didn't want the services to be cut up into a production line style service which would be easier to privatise.

A useful debate took place between junior doctors and a firefighters’ FBU union rep about how to escalate. Doctors said they couldn’t shut down A&E because patients need it.

The FBU rep argued that when firefighters strike they don’t refuse to go to life threatening emergencies. But because they want the strike to work, they ballot to shut down everything and take control out of management’s hands.


Anger and music in Lewisham

Large and lively picket line at Lewisham

Large and lively picket line at Lewisham (Pic: Mark Dunk)


There was a large and lively picket of about 100 outside Lewisham Hospital in South East London, on both sides of the main road.

Many local people came to show their support, including the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, the Pensioners Action Group, and local trade unionists. Cars honked in support all morning.

Junior doctor Aleem said, “The proposed cuts to the NHS will severely impact on the quality of care doctors can give to the public. It doesn’t just affect junior doctors, it affects everyone.”

Dr Krueger, a junior doctor with many years’ experience, explained what Hunt’s proposals would mean.

“I opted in to work 48 hours a week over a six week period. But we can be working seven days at twelve and half hours a day—that’s 91 hours a week. Currently we get time back for the extra hours we work. But if penalties on hospitals are removed this might change. Our work and family life balance is important. It’s not fair, and it’s not safe.

Dr Krueger accused the Tories of having a “hidden agenda”. “What the government is doing is not logical. Is this the beginning of privatisation? There doesn’t seem any other logical explanation. If you want the NHS as it is, you have to say no.”

Student nurses walked out to join the pickets for an hour. One told Socialist Worker, “We’re here to support the junior doctors and to stop our bursaries being removed. The bursary is not enough anyway—we have to work as well. If I had to take on student debt, that would put me off training.”

Another student nurse said, “We work so hard for so little. Nursing is a vocation. No one does it for the money. They’re making it unaffordable.”

Further up the road a group of junior doctors from the mental health Ladywell Unit livened up their picket line with music.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.