Solidarity for junior doctors was growing ahead of their planned 48-hour walkout this Wednesday against the imposition of a dangerous new contract.
Junior doctors in the British Medical Association (BMA) are set for a further two 48-hour walkouts on Wednesday 6 April and Tuesday 26 April.
Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt has thrown down the gauntlet to the trade union movement. If the Tories get away with imposing this contract on junior doctors, they will attack other workers.
Janet Maiden, a nurse at UCH hospital in central London and on the Unison union’s health service group executive, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.
She said, “I walked around four wards gathering support for the walkout. Even among nurses who aren’t in the union there was no question that we should support the junior doctors.”
The task for activists is turning this widespread sympathy into practical solidarity. As Esther, a nurse in UCH, said, “We really need to be getting practical support and have a junior doctors’ support group.”
Health workers and local trade unionists organised a 200-strong solidarity rally outside UCH during the last walkout in January.
They were building on that success with another rally planned for Wednesday at the hospital at 1pm.
Hunt claims the new contract is necessary to bring in “seven day working” to improve patient care—but the Tories’ spin is unravelling.
Trying to justify his case, Hunt is using weekend death figures to say the present service causes more deaths.
But the authors of the report he relies on said, “The article does not refer to 6,000 excess deaths as quoted by Hunt.”
They argued that it is “not possible to ascertain the extent to which these excess deaths may be preventable. To assume that they are avoidable would be rash and misleading.”
Megan, a junior doctor in Manchester, explained, “The ‘excess deaths’ refers to people who’ve died within 30 days of being admitted between Friday and Monday.
“But that’s because those admitted during the weekend are likely to be more ill. Hunt doesn’t really care about excess deaths—15,000 died from fuel poverty last winter but he’s not talking about that.”
The NHS already provides emergency care 24/7 and junior doctors work long hours, including nights and weekends.
The new contracts would stretch five days’ worth of resources across seven days. Hunt’s real agenda is to smash health workers’ pay and terms and conditions to soften the NHS up for privatisation.
That’s why activists are organising support. Now the TUC and union leaders need to organise solidarity.
When the TUC called a 15-minute stoppage in solidarity with ambulance workers in 1990, workers across Britain struck.
Socialist Worker reported at the time that “every town saw some form of protest … 5,000 attended one central London rally alone.”
At the very least, the TUC should organise a demo. Unison and the other health unions should immediately ballot members over their own issues.
And the Labour Party should get fully behind the strike, not meekly call for just more talks.
A win for the junior doctors will boost everyone’s confidence to fight back and deal a blow to Tory austerity. The escalation to 48-hour strikes this week is a welcome step forward. The escalation must continue if Hunt doesn’t back off.
Saturday 12 March, 1-4pm, Room B111, Brunei Gallery, Soas, Thornhaugh St, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG