Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/22531
Doctors fight on against imposed contracts
Junior doctors in the BMA (British Medical Association) are out on strike again today and tomorrow - 6 and 7 April - continuing their magnificent battle against imposed, worsened contracts.
This time they are again providing emergency care, but on 26 and 27 April they will escalate their action to a full strike.
At the King George hospital picket line in east London, Matthew Kelham, one of the striking junior doctors, explained: "The government says the BMA is just striking over Saturday pay which however is a lie. Seven day working is an unfunded, unplanned government action which is just political folly".
He then went on to talk about the contract openly discriminating against women, implementing unsafe working conditions and the importance of patient safety which is now under threat. "All we're asking is to go back to negotiations because we want a contract that lasts and doesn't drive people away from the profession - because ultimately that's when we'll really start to see major patient safety issues."
At least a dozen junior doctors stood strong in the rain at Whipps Cross hospital in north east London. The car horns beeping in support were just as loud as ever for them, in this fourth round of strike action.
The strikers are determined, but also feeling the pressure of the long-running dispute. They've planned a march from the hospital to the centre of Walthamstow later today where they're hosting a 'meet the doctors' event, plus a rally at the hospital during tomorrow's strike.
Socialist Party members advertised our public meeting tomorrow evening where a striking doctor will be speaking.
Doctors picketing outside Barts hospital in central London were particularly angry following new evidence - from the government itself - that the imposed contract will impact especially badly on women doctors.
They explained that an 'equality impact assessment' has shown what the doctors have long been saying: that women will be disproportionately disadvantaged by the new weekend working rules the government wants to force through.
Clare Doyle spoke to 14 year-old Reyhan Dag on the picket line at Homerton hospital:
Support for the junior doctors' strike from a 14 year-old school student
Junior doctors are standing firm at King's College Hospital in south London. Supporters of the Carnegie Library occupation in Lambeth joined the picket line.
Several doctors asked me to explain the Socialist Party's ideas to them, a surgeon bought a copy of the Socialist and the Socialist Party leaflet was being avidly read. There continues to be huge support for the tactic of coordinated strikes wherever Socialist Party members raise it - the doctors expressed amazement that this hasn't happened already. Socialist Party members in public sector union Unison and teachers' union NUT are fighting hard to achieve them.
There is clearly a lot of public support still for the junior doctors, with drivers tooting their support to the pickets at Royal Free hospital (London) and people queuing up for stickers and leaflets.
Socialist Party leaflets and the Socialist newspaper went down well with the striking doctors who recognise the need for other workers to link up with their struggle.
They were pleased at the statements from the NUT teachers' conference calling for coordinated action with the junior doctors.
Die-in outside the Department of Health
Junior doctors in Southampton remain determined to defeat the imposition of unfair and unsafe contracts. They welcomed support from other trade unions, including the NUT and understand that coordinated action with other health unions could play a vital role in winning the dispute.
The reasons for striking for individuals went beyond the imposition of contracts to include cuts and privatisation of the NHS as well as other public services.
At the picket line at St James's Hospital in Leeds not a single doctor disagreed with the Socialist Party's call for other NHS unions to coordinate strike action with them.
Many doctors were encouraged by the disarray of the government after IDS resigning and now Cameron's involvement in the Panama tax avoidance scandal. As one doctor commented: "They look as incompetent on those issues as we know they are in relation to us."
The doctors are determined to maintain their stand, but a few are worried about maintaining public support when they step up the action later this month to not themselves providing emergency cover (consultants will still be working and doing so). This shows the vital importance of the trade union movement mobilising it's full support behind the junior doctors. This dispute is one that we cannot afford to lose!
Ajay Sudan, a junior doctor at Gateshead's Queen Elizabeth Hospital spoke to the Socialist:
"You'll often hear of doctors and nurses flocking to Australia and New Zealand, and that they'll have better conditions when they're over there. They have those better conditions because they are willing to fight for them."
Ajay went on to explain that although striking is new for doctors in the UK it is not new in modern medicine. In New Zealand over the last decade there has been multiple strikes. This has included four full days of strike action - 96 hours - with no junior doctors working, only consultants.
The mood on the QE picket line is very upbeat. Junior doctors have welcomed the support from members of the public passing by. They have also had consultants, nurses and other hospital workers visiting the picket line.
Striking psychiatrists kept up the fight outside the Maudsley Hospital, south London, on 7 April. Pickets were cheerful after a mass rally the previous night. The junior doctor giving us the clenched-fist salute (pic above) DJed at it for a crowd of 200. He kept the party going on the picket line with a healthy dose of James Brown on the boombox.
Strikers at the Maudsley and at King's College Hospital expressed interest in attending the south London meeting of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) on 13 April to help coordinate local struggles. A member of the King's College BMA committee was especially keen.
- 'South London fights back!' National Shop Stewards Network public meeting: Wednesday 13 April at 7.30pm, Karibu Education Centre, 7 Gresham Road, Brixton SW9 7PH
Junior doctors, supported by medical students and other trade unionists, were battling the hailstones on their determined picket line outside Manchester Royal Infirmary. Later, over 200 marched into Manchester city centre while chanting "save our NHS" and "hey, ho, Jeremy Hunt has got to go". This gave an important boost to the doctors on strike as members of the public stood and applauded and passing traffic beeped horns in support.
One of the many homeless people in Manchester, sitting on the street as we marched by, said: "Good luck, this is my house because of David Cameron". This strike means so much more than just defending doctors' working conditions and pay.
The doctors are still determined to win. None of them want to have to remove emergency cover on the next strike but many feel they have no choice but to up the ante to force the government to back down. Already - before the changes in the imposed contract - the situation is unsafe. One doctor talked about having worked a full day shift and then being told to come back for a full night shift - and this is not an isolated incident. More investment is needed for more doctors in the NHS.
Manchester Trades Union Council is holding a meeting on the second day of the strike to discuss setting up a group to build practical support.
On a cold blustery evening on 6 April in Nottingham around 100 medical staff, trade unionists and others gathered in support of the NHS in the market square to coincide with the junior doctors' strike.
The first speaker was Vernon Coaker, Labour MP for Gedling, who supported Yvette Cooper during the Labour Party leadership campaign. He declared: "This attack on junior doctors has revealed the real intentions of this government towards the NHS" and "the marketisation and financialisation of the NHS must be opposed!"
While all true, it rung hollow from someone who has done little to oppose public service cuts throughout Nottinghamshire, which has seen public spending drop by £70 million over the last two years.
The general mood was one of defiance to the government's plan to change contracts. Ruth Willcott, a junior doctor at Nottingham City Hospital said: "Our concern is the government wanting us to work more hours when we already work the weekends, and that is often 13-hour shifts. If we work all these extra hours, we are worried about the effect it will have on patients and their safety."
A speaker from the NUT spoke of the need to "explain to everyone the disgraceful attacks by this government on all public services." A junior doctor from Leicester spoke of how in a profession where 60% are female "the proposed contract will have a wholly negative impact on women".
Dr David Rouse, deputy chair of the junior doctor's committee at the BMA said there is no reason to call off a fourth strike and that staff will be there to cover shifts.
Council worker, Unison rep and Socialist Party member Jean Thorpe, talked of the "massive reductions in council funding and the redundancies over the last six years", and said that it is "vital to coordinate strike action between all unions."
The Socialist Party says:
The striking doctors have received much solidarity from other trade unionists and from the public. Some online polls put public support at over 90%.
Health minister Jeremy Hunt and the other Tory ministers and MPs were elected with only 24% of the vote. They have no mandate for their destruction of the NHS! They can be defeated, if opposed by concrete solidarity action from the trade union movement - including from the teachers who are faced with mass academisation, ie privatisation of schools, and the steel workers whose jobs are threatened.
A well-prepared national demonstration and an ongoing and escalating programme of industrial action - with coordinated action across the NHS and elsewhere across the trade union movement - would reveal the mass opposition to the attacks on the doctors and other public services and force the Tories into reverse gear.
Pressure can also be applied to hospital trusts. Hunt already faces opposition among the trust CEOs he claimed supported him. And he cannot compel the 152 Foundation Trusts to impose his contract. The BMA, backed by trade unions, trades councils, health campaigners and local communities, could compel trusts not impose Hunt's contract.
- Reverse all NHS privatisation, scrap PFI and end all the cuts in pay, pensions and services.
- Nationalise the big pharmaceutical companies
- For democratic socialist planning of a publicly owned and run NHS with the full funding needed
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 6 April 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.