By Tomáš Tengely-Evans
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The Tories’ attack on junior doctors – a threat to every worker and a fight for us all

This article is over 8 years, 3 months old
Issue 2491
Junior doctors, strike, walkout, Trade Union Bill, Jeremy Hunt, contracts, imposition
Junior doctors picket in central London during their first 24-hour walkout in January (Pic: Guy Smallman )

The Tories have declared war—the unions have to win it.

Hunt announced last Thursday that he will impose a dangerous new contract on junior doctors—the day after they staged an England-wide strike.

This is a threat to every trade union. But doctors are up for the fight.

A 200-strong BMA meeting in Newcastle on Monday called for four days of strikes.

Ersong Shang, a junior doctor in Newcastle, said, “People are up for more strikes—the BMA has little to lose by this point.” More meetings were planned this week.

The Tories are out to privatise the NHS. Junior doctor Sarah Muldoon said, “They want to make the workforce cheaper so they can sell off the NHS.”

But a united fight can get rid of Hunt—and strike a blow against Tory austerity. If the BMA calls more action all the unions need to mobilise mass ­pickets.

The TUC should call a national demonstration and Unison should immediately ballot health workers. The Tories are holding a gun to the trade union movement’s head.

If health secretary Jeremy Hunt gets away with crushing the British Medical Association (BMA) it will give confidence to every union-bashing boss.

Johann Malawana, the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee chair, said he was holding back a “tidal wave” of “angry doctors” and that further action was “inevitable”.

Unison national executive member Karen Reissmann (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Unison national executive member Karen Reissmann (Pic: Guy Smallman) (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Patrick, a junior doctor in south London, told Socialist Worker, “We absolutely need to strike again. 

“It’s utterly shocking what the Tories are trying to do.

“United solidarity among all workers seems like one of our few ace cards.” 

The BMA needs to immediately escalate industrial action—and the TUC and union leaders need to give real support.

Mark Serwotka, PCS, unions, junior doctors, civil service, walkout, strike, contracts, imposition, Jeremy Hunt

PCS union leader Mark Serwotka (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Mark Serwotka, the PCS union general secretary, told Socialist Worker, “We have to give confidence to the junior doctors that if they fight we will be with them.”

The TUC press office told Socialist Worker that the union federation would not comment on the imposition because the BMA was “not an affiliate”.

But Hunt’s announcement is a threat to the whole trade union movement and everyone fighting austerity.

John McLoughlin, Unison union branch secretary in Tower Hamlets, said, “This attack is not just about junior doctors.

“This is a key fight for the whole trade union movement—we must get behind the junior doctors in resisting this imposition.” 

More than 100 health workers have signed an open letter calling on the TUC to call a national demonstration and a day for lunchtime walkouts.

It calls on Unison to demand a guarantee that NHS bosses will not attack unsocial hours pay or impose a deal. And it calls on the union to initiate a dispute if no guarantee is given.

We will hear that it’s secondary action—but given the significance the trade union movement can no longer be cowed

George Binette, Unison Camden branch secretary

Karen Reissmann, a health worker who sits on Unison’s national executive, told Socialist Worker, “There’s a sense of widespread anger among health workers.

“We know they’re coming for our unsocial hours pay so why shouldn’t we fight with the junior doctors?

“Lot of people are saying that we should be balloted for strikes.”

George Binette, Unison branch secretary in Camden council, told Socialist Worker, “Hunt’s imposition should sound alarm bells.

“We should be raising it at our branch meetings and doing street stalls to build the level of strikes.

“We will hear that it’s secondary action—but given the significance the trade union movement can no longer be cowed.”

Workers spoke in a personal capacity

Sign the Unite the Resistance solidarity statement

Privatisation plot lies behind new contracts

Jeremy Hunt claims the new contracts are necessary to bring in “seven day working” in the NHS and improve patient safety.

In reality they would rip apart terms and conditions and put patient safety at risk.

The Tories wanted to remove financial penalties on hospital bosses who overwork junior doctors.

The imposed deal would create a new “Guardian” role within trusts with the “authority to impose fines”.

That’s not as robust as the financial penalties introduced in the 1990s amid fears for patient safety. And why would trusts effectively fine themselves?

The new contracts would claw back unsocial hours pay and make Saturday a regular working day.

Hunt wants “elective” as well as “emergency” care to be delivered seven days a week. But junior doctors already work long hours, including nights and weekends.

This would stretch across a seven day service resources that are already inadequate for five days.

Hunt wants to smash pay and conditions to soften the NHS up for privatisation.

Hundreds join protests in London and Manchester

Junior doctors protesting on Whitehall last Thursday

Junior doctors protesting on Whitehall last Thursday (Pic: Socialist Worker )

Around 500 junior doctors and medical students joined an emergency protest outside the Department of Health last Thursday night. Some 100 also protested in Manchester.

The mood was angry and defiant as people marched on parliament and blocked Whitehall after a rally.

William, a junior doctor, told Socialist Worker, “We were all really disappointed by Hunt’s statement. The whole reason for striking was to protect patient safety.” 

He added, “I hope that we can start negotiations, but the only thing that will make that happen is if the BMA calls more strikes.”

Protesters chanted, “Doctors and nurses, unite and strike” and, “Strike until we win”.

James was one of a large number of medical students who joined the protest. He told Socialist Worker, “This just makes me lose a bit of faith in our democracy. Junior doctors voted by 98 percent to strike, but one person can just impose these changes.”

The BMA has staged two 24-hour walkouts—the next one needs to be at least 48 hours.

National Gallery workers in the PCS union marched down to join the protest. PCS union rep Candy Udwin told the crowd, “You’re not just fighting for yourselves—you’re fighting for all of us.

“If you strike, you will get support from across the country.”  

Up the road at the NUT union headquarters activists had met to discuss the Trade Union Bill.

Sandy Nicoll, a Unison union rep at the School of Oriental and African Studies, told the meeting, “The junior doctors are chanting, ‘Where are you Jeremy?’

“We need to make sure that in a few weeks’ time they don’t start chanting, ‘Where are you Unison, where are you Unite?’.” 

Hunt has declared war—the unions need to win it.

Step up the struggle to kill the Tories’ Trade Union Bill

Union members across Britain took part in the TUC’s “heartunions” week of action against the Tories’ Trade Union Bill last week.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secetary, handed in a petition to Downing Street that was signed by more than 200,000 people.

Many union branches simultaneously took part in a “Big Workplace Meeting” with a live video link to O’Grady.

The Tories’ imposition of a new contract on junior doctors had a big impact and a number of workplaces organised lunchtime walkouts.

Around 40 members of the Prospect and PCS unions at the Health and Safety Executive in London joined a lunchtime rally.

Prospect rep Simon Hester said, “The attempt to impose a disastrous contract on the junior doctors shows that we need unions that can fight back effectively.

“We oppose the Trade Union Bill—solidarity with the BMA.”

The CWU union projected the message “Stand up for the millions not the millionaires—say no the TU Bill” onto the Houses of Parliament.

The bill has reached the committee stage in the House of Lords.

A leak first revealed by Socialist Worker showed that the Tories expect to be defeated on a number of issues, but the concessions are small.

The next sitting is on Tuesday of next week.

A number of left wing union leaders have argued for mass mobilisation against the bill.

But many argued members had to learn to negotiate within the new legislation.

The Tories have already told the unions, “We will impose what we like on you”.

The junior doctors’ dispute is a key test that the union movement cannot afford to fail.

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