Socialist Worker

Junior Doctors escalate industrial action

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2496

Striking doctors and their supporters at University College Hospital in February

Striking doctors and their supporters at University College Hospital in February (Pic: Julie Sherry)


The British Medical Association (BMA) has escalated its programme of industrial action against Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s imposition of a dangerous new contract today, Wednesday.

The planned 48-hour walkout by junior doctors in England on 26 April will now be a “full walkout” with consultants, not junior doctors, providing emergency cover. Junior doctors have already held a successful 48-hour strike on 10 March—and are set to walk out again for 48-hours on 6 April.

Yannis Gourtsoyannis, who sits on the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee, told Socialist Worker, “Escalation was necessary—and there is room for further escalation if the government don’t come back to the negotiating table.

“We are in an unprecedented situation, but this move shows the resolve of our members in fighting the imposition.”

Every activist must now build solidarity ahead of the next walkout on 6 April.

Hunt claims the new contract is necessary to bring in “seven day working” in the NHS to improve patient care. But the NHS already has 24/7 emergency services and junior doctors already work long hours, including nights and weekends.

In reality, Hunt wants to smash pay and terms and conditions to soften the NHS up for privatisation. As Yannis said, “Austerity is the backdrop of the junior doctors’ contract dispute.”

But there is now a real opportunity to ramp up pressure on the Tories as they plunge further into crisis. Yannis said, “The Tories are hitting the brick wall with their strategy of austerity. It’s being opposed inside parliament by the Labour Party and is leading to Tory divisions.”

Position

David Cameron will fight hard to avoid losing another top cabinet minister after Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation as work and pensions secretary. Hunt has already lost one top cabinet position and can’t afford to be seen to lose on this.

Only escalation by the BMA and building a united fightback with other workers will force Hunt to back down.

The Tories plan to force through academisation of all schools in England has sparked widespread anger—and the NUT teachers’ union could now strike in June. If they’re still in dispute, the junior doctors could coordinate with them.

Yannis said, “There are also parallels with the academisation of schools and what’s been happening with privatisation in the NHS. The BMA will be extending its solidarity to the teachers’ union—we can learn a lot from them.”

During the last walkout around 1,500 junior doctors and their supporters marched into the City of London and 200 people rallied outside UCH hospital in Euston. These showed what sort of solidarity is possible—more is needed to win.

The TUC should call a national demonstration and Unison and the other health unions should immediately ballot their members. The Labour Party leadership needs to come off the fence, unequivocally back the strikes and build solidarity for them.

The Tories are in crisis—we must not let this opportunity to strike a blow against austerity pass.


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