Thousands of junior doctors took to picket lines on Thursday shortly before Tory prime minister Rishi Sunak announced a new pay offer to millions of public sector workers. The wave of strikes over the past year have put Sunak under massive pressure—the industrial action proving far more popular than his government.
He sought to end the strikes with a new offer of a pay rise of 6 percent. The media and some union leaders greeted the news as a breakthrough. But inflation is running at 11.3 percent, as measured by the most accurate RPI rate, so Sunak’s “breakthrough” deal will actually leave workers worse off.
The PA News agency reports that the government plans to offer junior doctors 6 percent, plus a consolidated lump sum of £1,250. That comes nowhere close to the BMA union’s demand for full pay restoration after years of cuts. It has rightly insisted on a rise of 35 percent this year.
The union responded angrily to Sunak’s speech, saying, “This offer is exactly why so many doctors are feeling they have no option but to take industrial action as they have suffered years of below-inflation pay awards and once again the government and the DDRB [pay review body] have both failed to address that in this year’s uplift.
“Today’s announcement represents yet another pay cut in real terms and serves only to increase the losses faced by doctors after more than a decade’s worth of sub-inflation pay awards.
“The BMA will continue to fight for the full restoration of pay lost since 2008.”
Before Sunak’s announcement, the government had offered only an insulting 4 percent. The prime minister said that his 6 percent rise would not be covered by additional spending. Instead, he said, the money would come from existing budgets—and from increased fees for migrant visas for those coming to work in Britain.
That raises the absurd spectre of overseas doctors and nurses coming to the aid of an ailing NHS and having to pay extra for the “privilege”.
The announcement came after strikers had packed up their picket lines for the day. But earlier that morning the mood on picket lines was upbeat and angry. Many strikers focused on the damage the government has inflicted on the NHS—and the need for decent pay to keep doctors in the job.
At St Thomas hospital, just across the river from parliament, one picket told Socialist Worker, “It’s obvious to everyone who works at or uses the NHS that there are serious issues. Waiting times at A&E, long waits for ambulances, and cancelled appointments because there’s not enough staff are just some examples.
“Pay is just one part of this strike, but it is important. I know really good doctors who are leaving the job, or are being forced to move back home because London is so expensive. Pay can fix those issues and attract new health workers to train to join the NHS. So our demand for full pay restoration hasn’t gone away.”
Another striking doctor said they were overwhelmed by the spirit on the picket line. “Today has been really great, lots of chanting and energy,” they said.
“We’ve had support from patients, bus drivers and retired NHS workers. We’re showing people that we are going to win. That’s why we need more strikes. And us being here, in view of parliament, sends a message.
“We haven’t been listened to, which is frustrating, but expected. That’s why we are on strike again.”
The strike has put the desperately weak Tories under massive pressure. The action makes it impossible for them to fulfil their pledge to bring down hospital waiting times—and the walkouts are proving far more popular than the government.
This is no time for the union to make concessions on its core demand for pay restoration. Mirno works at St Thomas hospital. He and his colleagues in the Unite union are also on strike on Thursday. The engineer put the case for better pay for the whole NHS.
“The press says we have to be fair to the patients. But we are always fair to them, they always come first,” he said. “But we don’t have enough staff. I have heard of nurses using food banks, and lots of them plan to migrate to Canada, and other places, because there’s more money. We need a pay rise to fix this.”
The government’s new, below-inflation offer will do nothing to fill the staffing gaps in the NHS. The unions must stand strong for their members—and for everyone who relies on the health service.
On Saturday 23 September a Workers’ Summit is meeting in-person in London around the slogan, “Link the fights, reject bad deals, fight to win!”
Organisers describe it as “an afternoon for grassroots collaboration”. It was initiated by Lambeth and Hackney NEU, NHS Workers Say No and Strike Map. It’s already backed by 20 trade union branches and trades councils.
The summit will host discussion but can also strengthen the networks of resistance at the base of the unions.
Plus Top docs should reject pay offer
Israel has displaced some 1.7 million Gazans
Plus Deliveroo judgment, and anti-racist action in Wigan and Oxford