Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt was rocked by two solid junior doctors’ walkouts last week. It’s time to press home the advantage.
Across England the picket lines were bigger than during the last strikes and solidarity poured in from trade unionists and campaigners.
Hunt hoped he could isolate and intimidate the doctors as they withdrew emergency cover. In fact the consultants covered for emergencies, and more junior doctors took part in the strike.
A poll showed 57 percent of the public backed the doctors’ action, 41 percent of them “strongly”.
Sarah Hallet sits on the British Medical Association’s (BMA) junior doctors’ committee. She said, “It was as well, if not better, supported than the previous industrial action.
“We were happy to take part in the action because we knew that consultants would look after our patients.”
Even NHS bosses were forced to admit that nearly 80 percent of junior doctors downed scalpels on both days.
Support was key to keeping their confidence up in the face of right wing propaganda about the “full walkout” putting patients’ lives at risk.
Danny, a junior doctor at Homerton Hospital in east London, said, “It’s clear that the public is fully behind it, which has bolstered junior doctors.
“The more stubborn Hunt is becoming, the angrier we’re becoming.”
Across England there was a sense of growing participation and solidarity. At the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle spirits were high as nurses and consultants brought support to the picket line.
Doctors were talking about escalating to continuous action.
The strike was solid at Trafford General in Manchester—the first hospital to be run by the NHS, now under threat of closure.
In Lancaster supporters swelled the picket lines to around 40 people. Doctors were keen to hear from teachers who will soon be balloting for strikes and could join them in future walkouts.
At the University College Hospital (UCH) the picket lines were particularly large because junior doctors and health workers systematically built the strike across the wards.
Some unions, such as the NUT teachers’ union, are beginning to offer practical solidarity.
In Tower Hamlets in east London junior doctors and trade unionists built on their successful 1,500-strong march during an earlier strike with lunchtime solidarity walkouts.
These were called through a junior doctors’ support group, set up by BMA activists and others, after the last strike.
Kambiz Boomla, a GP and BMA member in east London, told Socialist Worker, “We had seven events across the Tower Hamlets borough with a few hundred people taking part.
“That’s more than we would have got if we’d had everyone march to the hospital.
“We have a network of BMA activists and then built it among shop stewards in other unions.”
The walkout was a sign of things shifting against the Tories.
The BMA junior doctors’ committee will meet this weekend to consider its next move.
It must escalate the strikes further, reduce the time between each phase of the action, and demand wider support from trade unions—especially in the NHS.
The PCS and FBU unions have called on the TUC to organise a day of action for the junior doctors.
Everyone should back the call. But the TUC leadership has so far failed to come out in support of such an initiative.
If the BMA made the call on the TUC it would be under more pressure to back it.
But we can’t wait for the TUC. Trade unionists must organise for solidarity with the junior doctors themselves, even if it is at first on a relatively modest scale.
Every trade union must immediately build solidarity networks for the junior doctors.
Strikers and their supporters march
Thousands of junior doctors, teachers and strike supporters marched in London from the picket line at St Thomas’ Hospital opposite parliament to Downing Street on Tuesday of last week.
The demonstration was organised by the London region of the NUT teachers’ union and the British Medical Association (BMA) in London.
The demo came at the end of the junior doctors’ first ten-hour “full walkout”.
It was a mass show of strength and solidarity—and there was a real sense that the tide is turning against the Tories.
Anna, a junior doctor at St Thomas’, told Socialist Worker, “We need to look at what the Tory agenda is—it’s privatisation. The public need to support us in order to challenge it.”
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell led the demo.
This was despite pressure from the Labour right for them to stay away.
It was important that Corbyn and McDonnell were there.
But there are continuing divisions in Labour.
Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has been trying to broker a deal that would have halted the strikes and seen the dangerous contract “trialled”.
PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka told the demonstration, “Imagine what it would be like if every union in Britain mobilised to show solidarity for the junior doctors.”
That’s what we need to see turned into reality.
Hunt is there for the taking—now’s the time to deliver the key blow against him.