Junior doctors are set to begin two “full walkouts” next Tuesday and Wednesday as they ramp up their strikes against Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The British Medical Association’s (BMA) fourth round of action comes as Hunt is facing mounting opposition. He was forced to reiterate that there’s been “no change of approach” after the Guardian newspaper claimed he had U-turned on imposition of a new contract.
A letter from the government’s legal department to Bindman solicitors, who are representing Justice for Health, said Hunt was “introducing” the new contract. Justice for Health, set up by five junior doctors, took out a judicial review challenging the legality of imposition in the High Court.
This is another sign of the mounting crisis facing the Tory government and shows that industrial action is putting pressure on Hunt.
But referring to “introducing” instead of “imposing” in itself is not a U-turn. When announcing imposition in January, Hunt told parliament he was “proceeding with the introduction of the new contract”.
Hunt is on the run—but only escalating action will push back this attack. Paul Robinson, a junior doctor, told Socialist Worker, “Jeremy Hunt will not move on imposition. He sees this as his Thatcher moment, he wants to break the NHS and the strike.
“He will have to be moved or go”.
That means building more solidarity to boost junior doctors’ confidence, get the BMA to call more action and pile pressure onto Hunt.
The BMA and the NUT teachers’ union, which is balloting against forced academisation, plan a demonstration in London next Tuesday evening. Everyone in London should try to be there, whatever union or campaign they are in.
At Soas university in London workers and students plan a solidarity walkout.Sandy Nicoll, the Unison union branch secretary, said, “We’ll walk out, shut the college down and join the demonstration”.
The CWU communicationworkers’ union has agreed to send out the BMA’s new solidarity posters.
In Tower Hamlets, east London, junior doctors’ support group members are planning joint street stalls with teachers this weekend and 15-minute lunchtime protests.
But while rank-and-file trade unionists have built solidarity, the TUC and most union leaders have only given rhetorical support. Niki Fitzgerald, a BMA rep, told a junior doctors’ solidarity meeting, “What’s missing sometimes is concrete proposals from other speakers.
“Will you call on your members to join our picket lines on their lunchbreaks? Will you call your members to picket their own workplaces? Will you call on local reps to reach out and send solidarity to hospitals?”
The Tories are weak and divided and a mood of opposition is sweeping across Britain—the unions must not let this opportunity pass.
As Niki said, “Stopping the imposition won’t stop privation or defeat austerity—but it could galvanise people into a fight that could do that.”
New figures show NHS crisis is growing worse
The NHS plunged further into crisis as it missed a number of key targets this month.
The number of patients seen on time in accident and emergency (A&E) was its lowest since records began.
Some 230,000 people had to wait longer than four hours.
Ambulances missed their target to respond to 75 percent of the most serious 999 calls in eight minutes for the ninth month in a row.
Years of budget cuts and privatisation, combined with the assaults on social care, have caused the NHS crisis.
Meanwhile poverty pay and rocketing workloads are pushing health workers to leave.
All health unions must join the fight
the conference of NHS workers in the Unison union takes place next week.
The backdrop to it is a deepening NHS crisis, resistance from junior doctors and demands for action from the union’s leadership.
Unison is easily the biggest health union, but it is not doing nearly enough to fight the government’s attacks.
Karen Reissmann sits on Unison’s health service group executive.
She told Socialist Worker in a personal capacity, “There’s a mood to fight and people are frustrated, but the leadership is falling short. Their argument is essentially to do nothing, so it’s up to branches to pick up resistance.”
Socialist Worker supporters in Unison have pushed for the union to demand an official assurance that there will be no attack on unsocial hours payments.
If the Tories wouldn’t give it, the union could start a dispute and ballot members to join the junior doctors.
But the union leadership made clear that this would be blocked. Karen said, “We couldn’t raise what we wanted because the leadership said it would be ruled out of order.”
The North West region’s Motion 19 on unsocial hours and Mid Yorkshire Health’s Motion 11 on the pay freeze are an opportunity to put pressure on the leadership.
Hunt is determined to smash health workers’ unsocial hours pay—and other terms and conditions—to soften the NHS up for privatisation.
The pay review body (PRB) did not recommend scrapping unsocial hours’ payments in the Agenda for Change health workers’ pay structure last July.
Hunt thought he could quickly smash the junior doctors and then take on other health workers.
But the bosses are coming for more. Motion 19 calls on the union to “resist any efforts to extend ‘normal working time’ and support other groups of health workers, such as junior doctors, in their efforts to resist such attacks.
“If any reduction in unsocial hours is proposed, to organise a campaign amongst members to defend unsocial hours and ballot members for industrial action.”
While this isn’t going on the offensive, it can be a way of putting pressure on the leadership.
Motion 11 “resolves to campaign amongst the membership for coordinated industrial action against the 1 percent pay cap.”
The conference begins next Monday and finishes on the day of the BMA’s second walkout. It should suspend standing orders and march to join the picket lines.
Activists still need to push Unison and the other health unions to immediately ballot their members and join the fight to save the NHS.
Vote left in Unison election
Voting has started in the Unison union’s service groups executive (SGE) elections. This is a chance to back left candidates.
For the local government SGE Socialist Worker backs: Liz Bailey, Angela Waller, David Hughes, John Mark Evans, Duncan Smith, Caroline Firmin, John McLoughlin, Sue Plain, Claire Wormald and Adrian Picton.
For the health SGE we back: Gary Freeman, Jordan Rivera, Linda Miller, Libby Nolan, Ian Thomas, Theresa Rollinson and Adrian O’Malley.