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11 May 2016

Government blinks first in junior doctors' dispute

The Tories appear to have blinked first in the junior doctors' struggle. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, representing the upper echelons of the medical profession, had appealed for talks between the BMA and the government to end the long-running dispute over a new contract for junior doctors.

On the morning of 5 May, Tory Health Minister Jeremy Hunt was clear that it was too late to stop his imposition of the new contract but just hours later softened that position to temporarily suspending it. Five days of talks started on 9 May.

This should be seen as a significant moment that can give junior doctors confidence that they can defeat the Tories' plans. Undoubtedly, Hunt believed that the escalation of the action to include the withdrawal of emergency cover would backfire on the BMA.

In the run-up to the strike, a 'government source' tried to break public support and intimidate the union by accusing them of trying to "topple the government". But these attempts hardened the strikers, bringing the full support of other health workers, fellow trade unionists and the public.

In Brighton at 8am on the first strike day, 600 marched with the junior doctors, bolstered by many delegates from the Unison health conference. That evening, over 5,000 marched on a joint BMA-NUT demonstration in London, where PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka announced his union's NEC had voted to call on the TUC general council to organise a national day of action in support of the junior doctors. Scandalously, that call was rejected.

It must be made clear to Hunt that failure to withdraw imposition will mean that the struggle goes to a new level. As well as setting out another course of stoppages, the junior doctors' committee should immediately contact the TUC making it clear that junior doctors agree with PCS's call for a day of action.

The Tories are clearly in the corner and any retreat from Hunt will be seen as not only a famous victory for the BMA and the junior doctors, but a massive blow against the government. It will raise the confidence of millions of workers but only by maintaining a fighting stance can the pressure be built on the Tories.