The junior doctors’ walkout last Wednesday and Thursday showed their determination to resist the Tory imposition of a dangerous new contract.
The British Medical Association’s (BMA) action was solid—and an important building block to more hard-hitting action on 26 and 27 April.
Emily, a junior doctor at the Royal London Hospital, said, “We’re keeping the momentum up. We’re willing to do whatever it takes to stop this.”
Pickets were lively and confident as solidarity from trade unionists came pouring in. People have been getting behind the dispute to express anger at the Tories’ attacks on the NHS and austerity.
The NUT teachers’ union is balloting its members against Tory plans to force all schools to become academies. This has boosted junior doctors—and groups of teachers joined junior doctors’ picket lines.
Joe, an NUT union rep, joined the Lewisham hospital picket lines. He said, “The junior doctors’ stand is courageous and inspiring.
“As a teacher facing the government’s ideological assault on education it’s important to show solidarity with their fight.”
This pattern of solidarity was repeated across England and showed what a united fightback might look like.
Alex May, who joined the Arrowe Park Hospital picket line in Merseyside, told Socialist Worker, “The mood on the picket lines was upbeat especially after the NUT teachers’ conference decision.”
The Tories are divided and David Cameron is reeling from the Panama tax dodging scandal—union leaders must not let this opportunity pass.
While rank and file members are building solidarity, the TUC and most union leaders have only given rhetorical support. Phil Graham, an Aslef train drivers’ union rep, said, “I know the BMA aren’t affiliated to the TUC, but the TUC should still be giving real support. TUC leader Frances O’Grady should be on the picket line.”
The TUC should throw its weight behind the junior doctors and Unison and the other health unions should immediately ballot their members.
Trade unionists now need to build momentum and deepen solidarity ahead of the BMA’s two ten-hour “full walkouts” on 26 and 27 April.
This will mean consultants instead of junior doctors providing emergency cover.
There are plans for a joint teachers’ and junior doctors’ march and rally in London at the end of the next walkout—reps in schools, hospitals and other workers need to get delegations along to it.
The BMA had not announced further action as Socialist Worker went to press. But deepening solidarity will give confidence to junior doctors, put pressure on the BMA to call more action and help the junior doctors win.
Trade unionists organise protests to support strikes
Around 400 junior doctors and their supporters marched from the Manchester Royal Infirmary into the town centre last Wednesday.
Megan told Socialist Worker, “We have more people on our picket lines and NUT members came for the first time.
“The BMA reps built the demonstration through texts, phone calls and social media.”
Up to 200 junior doctors and trade unionists from across east London rallied outside Hackney Town Hall at lunchtime the following day.
At Whipps Cross Hospital in north east London around 100 junior doctors and their supporters marched into Walthamstow on Wednesday and some 50 joined the picket line on Thursday.
In Brighton 150 marched on the first day of the strike with flags and banners from other unions, a lively contingent of NHS students, as well as a big contingent from Sussex Defend the NHS.
These marches were successful because of a combination of initiative from other workers and a call by the BMA.
Some 300 people marched from Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals to the Department of Health.
On the first day of the strike up to 50 workers and students from the School of Oriental and African Studies walked out in solidarity for two hours.
Activists need to build junior doctors’ support groups that can get strikers into union meetings, call joint events and coordinate solidarity during strikes.
Unite the fightback—build junior doctor support groups
Over 20 people came to the first meeting of a Tower Hamlets junior doctors’ support group in east London last Thursday.
A further 50 joined a similar meeting in Manchester that night.
Junior doctor Emily told the Tower Hamlets meeting, “We’ve got different things planned to build momentum and we want junior doctors to engage with all the different groups here.”
Alex Kenny from the NUT teachers’ union said, “Teachers and junior doctors are getting together to organise joint ‘Meet the doctors and teachers’ events.”
He added, “Perhaps that’s something we could do here.”
Sam, a Unison union member at the Royal London, said, “There’s been no direction from Unison, but we’re organising at the grass roots.”
Activists agreed to get junior doctors into union meetings ahead of the full walkout, do a joint stall with teachers and discussed having 15-minute lunchtime protests.
In Manchester activists discussed giving out postcards to patients who’ve had operations cancelled that blamed Tory Jeremy Hunt and promoted a union-backed protest on 26 April.
They split into hospital groups and agreed to contact reps for their local hospitals.