Delegates at the Unison union’s health conference in Brighton plan to join junior doctors’ picket lines tomorrow morning, Tuesday. Junior doctors in the British Medical Association (BMA) in England plan to stage two ten-hour “full walkouts” on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, slammed Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt in his keynote speech today. He said, “Junior doctors’ treatment by this government is appalling—Jeremy Hunt should be hanging his head in shame. Tomorrow morning I will be on the picket lines—come and join me.”
The junior doctors’ fight has become the focal point for anger against the Tories’ attacks on the NHS and austerity.
It’s this mood that has pushed the leadership to invite a BMA speaker to conference. The Unison health service group executive (SGE) yesterday voted 26 to six not to invite a BMA speaker to the conference.The alleged justification was that the BMA had not asked to be invited.
Delegate Gareth Drinkwater from Bournemouth challenged the standing orders committee report. He said, “The most vital industrial battle for the NHS is taking place tomorrow. Why could we not find a few minutes to let a BMA speaker address conference?”
His challenge won wide support and the standing orders committee agreed space would be found for a BMA speaker.
Delegates loudly cheered Prentis’ announcement that Unison is moving towards balloting ambulance workers for strikes over pay.
But the leadership is opposing a motion calling for industrial action on pay that’s set to be debated on Tuesday. Balloting ambulances is an important step—but all health workers should be balloted.
Prentis also said, “If Hunt comes after our unsocial hours payments, we will fight back and this union is ready.”
But the union leadership is not moving towards a ballot of its health members despite an imminent attack on unsocial hours. The left has argued that the union should demand a guarantee from the NHS bosses that they won’t attack unsocial hours pay. If bosses don’t give a guarantee, the union could initiate a dispute and join the junior doctors.
The right made clear this would be ruled out of order before the conference.
Heidi Alexander, Labour’s shadow health secretary, spoke to the conference and slammed Hunt’s attacks. She asked delegates to “work together to defeat the Tory government in 2020.”
The NHS will be fundamentally transformed by 2020 and a crucial battle to save it is taking place now. As Alexander said, “If Jeremy Hunt gets away with it with junior doctors, he will be tempted to come after everyone else.”
The Tories are in trouble. That’s why Labour should get off the fence and unequivocally back the junior doctors, rather than seeking to divert the strikes with proposed deals that mean "trialing" the unsafe and unfair contract.
Delegates should join the march to the BMA picket lines tomorrow.