Editorial of the Socialist, issue 898

Teachers, doctors, all of us

Strike together to kick out the Tories!

  • After the 16 April march, build for coordinated workers’ action

Anti- academies march, London, 23.3.16 , photo  R Williams

Anti- academies march, London, 23.3.16 , photo R Williams   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

“Doctors and teachers unite and fight” was one of the chants that rang out on the 16 April anti-austerity demo, as junior doctors prepare for an escalation of their strike action and teachers start to ballot for national action.

In London on 26 April they are doing just that. A demo has been called jointly by the London region of the teachers’ union NUT, and the South and North Thames regions of the doctors’ union BMA, with the backing of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) and others.

Join the march – Tuesday 26 April, assemble 5pm at St Thomas’ Hospital, Westminster Bridge Road and march to the Department of Health

“Last month, a fantastic demonstration, called at short notice by NUT divisions in London, helped show the depth of opposition to the government’s academy plans. The march helped give confidence to delegates at the NUT’s conference to vote for strike action to oppose the threat to national pay and conditions that will result from the imposition of these damaging plans.

“Delegates also agreed that our fight is part of the wider battle to defend public services and that we should explore the possibility of coordinating our campaign with the BMA.

“With this joint demo on April 26, NUT members and other trade unionists can help build that united campaign and help give confidence to another set of workers facing an attack on their national conditions – the junior doctors.”

Martin Powell-Davies, NUT London regional secretary and one of the organisers of the demo

Junior doctors' picket at Arrowe Park hospital on the Wirral. Feb 2016, photo Roy Corke

Junior doctors’ picket at Arrowe Park hospital on the Wirral. Feb 2016, photo Roy Corke   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

“Teachers and doctors are coming together to march against simultaneous attacks from a heavy-handed government which is putting private interests above the quality of the public services we deserve.

“We are both facing imposition – doctors of an unsafe contract; teachers, academisation of their schools. We are fighting, not for our own interests, but because we recognise these as attacks on core public services, that go hand-in-hand with austerity and the destruction of the welfare state.

“We must stand up against this together – not just teachers and doctors but everybody who uses the NHS, who has benefited from free education and who wants their children to have the same opportunities.”

Niki Fitzgerald, Whipps Cross Hospital junior doctor and BMA rep (in a personal capacity)

The 26 April demonstration in London, called jointly by the doctors’ union BMA and teachers’ union NUT, is very important.

It is a reminder of the first trade union demonstration in London against austerity in October 2010. Then, the National Shop Stewards Network joined up with striking London firefighters and the London regions of the rail union RMT, the NUT, the civil service union PCS and the lecturers’ union UCU. We marched through London to oppose the “savage cuts” threatened by the then Tory-Lib Dem coalition government.

That demonstration, along with marches in other regions, helped build the pressure on the TUC to call the biggest trade union demonstration in history on 26 March 2011.

Junior doctors and teachers are currently on the frontline of attacks on the public sector. The NHS is in financial crisis with massive Private Finance Initiative debts and a £22 billion ‘black hole’.

The junior doctors’ strike action – the first time in 40 years – has inspired workers and communities across the board. Their fight against the Hunt contract is widely recognised to be a fight for the NHS as a whole, and is extremely popular with the public. This demonstration takes place on the sixth strike day.

Teachers are fighting on a number of fronts to defend education from Tory plans to force every single school in the country to become an academy, to do away with national collective bargaining for teachers, and to slash schools’ funding. The NUT is balloting for national action to defend national pay and conditions across all schools, academies and non-academies, and aims to take a first day of strike action in early July. This would be followed with further action in the autumn.

The 26 April demo, as well as being a display of solidarity, must be the springboard for joint action. BMA members must campaign for their leadership to call action alongside teachers in July. The confidence of both junior doctors and teachers would be so much higher, and the impact so much greater, if they strike together.


The student nurses’ ‘Bursaries or Bust’ campaign is one indication of the determination of other health workers also to fight. It follows the strike of midwives in 2014 and the special conference of GPs in December 2015.

The doctors’ and teachers’ demo takes place at the same time as the conference of the health section of public sector union Unison. Delegates should place the demand clearly on their leaders to oppose pay restraint and cuts, and for united action with the junior doctors. There are one million workers in the NHS – united action would be an extremely powerful step, and would harness the support of millions in their communities who have marched and protested in town after town to defend their local hospitals and A&Es.

The magnificent battle in Huddersfield (see here) – which follows other massive campaigns in Lewisham and Staffordshire – shows how much support there would be for a serious campaign of action conducted by the health unions. Unison in particular, which organises the biggest number of health workers, has a responsibility to act.

In fact, all the trade union leaders have a responsibility to act. Tens of thousands marched in London on the 16 April anti-austerity demo called by the Peoples’ Assembly. Yet again, young people especially, but also trade unionists, lined up to say “we’re ready for action”.

The demands of the demo, originally for health, housing, jobs and education, were expanded to include “Cameron Must Go” due to the welling up of anger against the rich with their snouts in offshore secret troughs.

But we found that people picked up the Socialist Party’s placards because they didn’t just want to say “Cameron out”, they wanted to say “Tories out”. And what thousands on the march craved – but unfortunately didn’t get – was the strategy and programme to actually do it.

The Socialist Party ran an open mic at the start and end of the demo. Lots of young people, young workers, trade unionists, housing campaigners, people from the Bargee Travellers Association, from the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) and more, took to the mic.

The ideas put forward by the Socialist Party speakers – Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe, former anti-cuts Liverpool City Councillor Tony Mulhearn, and others – were extremely popular.

Our speakers called to bring down the Tories but said we can’t wait till 2020. The Tories are now riven from top to bottom in a historic crisis over the EU referendum – they could be out of office in a matter of weeks.

A mass movement has the potential to bring down the government.

Many people on 16 April were young, angry first time demonstrators and really enjoyed being part of a big crowd, making their voices heard. Demonstrations give people confidence – and shake the confidence of the capitalist class.

Not enough

But it’s not enough to just keep calling an anti-austerity demo each year. This is the third year that the People’s Assembly has called a spring anti-austerity march. Each time, thousands more people have lost their jobs, homes, pay and/or benefits; more libraries and nurseries have been closed; and the Tories have ramped up the destruction of the welfare state even further.

The People’s Assembly is funded by trade unions, especially general union Unite. The unions have tremendous potential power. In March 2011, three quarters of a million people marched, followed by a two-million strong public sector pensions strike in November. This should have been a step towards a 24-hour general strike to seriously challenge austerity. But the leaders of Unison and GMB retreated.

We have now had six years of austerity. From trade unions leading the struggle in 2011, the fight has been contracted out to the People’s Assembly. Saturday’s march had a turnout of thousands partly because it had some trade union backing. But at the same time no clear direction is put forward.

For example, Dave Ward, general secretary of the postal workers union CWU, concluded his speech by saying: “Join a trade union. Join the People’s Assembly. Get behind Jeremy Corbyn.”

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, pledged solidarity with junior doctors and teachers but made no mention at all of coordinating strike action – a far cry from the call for a general strike he made in 2012. He concluded by saying “we will fight, fight, fight for a better tomorrow.”

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s speech was hugely welcomed on the demo because it was such a contrast with Blairite New Labour. He pledged to end austerity and make the rich pay, to halt the privatisation of the NHS, to build hundreds of thousands of council homes. He said “Let’s bring this government down at the first opportunity”.

The trade union leaders and anti-austerity forces around Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell should organise a serious national campaign to do that. Instead, unfortunately, John and Jeremy Corbyn have made a major mistake in campaigning for a Remain vote in the EU referendum alongside Cameron and the majority of the establishment politicians and big business. This is wasting the major opportunity there is at the moment to “bring this government down.”

The “fight” will be made up of a myriad of issues, different sections of society and a range of types of action. But the Socialist Party has argued all along that it is the working class, organised in trade unions, that has the greatest power to challenge the government and bosses, and should be at the heart of the struggle, instead of handing over leadership to others.

This is why the joint BMA and NUT demonstration is important, and why Socialist Party members in the unions and the NSSN have worked to help it happen.

Mass strike action is the most powerful and unifying weapon the anti-cuts movement has, bringing behind it the support of millions in communities. The Socialist Party calls for coordinating the strike action of all those workers in dispute as preparation for a 24-hour general strike.

Councillors’ revolt

We also call on Labour councillors to stop passing on Tory cuts now, and instead help to build a mass movement to defeat austerity – a councillors’ revolt could be a key part of bringing this government down. The Socialist Party is part of TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, whose challenge in this May’s council elections makes that call.

When Socialist Party speakers on our sound system referred to the surge for Bernie Sanders in the US and the need for a socialist alternative, we were received with cheers. It is essential that a clear socialist programme is put forward that can mobilise and unify working class people and lay out what needs to be done to achieve a “better tomorrow”.

For Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to be able to do that would need a serious fight with the pro-capitalist, pro-austerity Blairite right wing in the Labour Party. It would mean standing firm on the necessary policies instead of retreating in the face of right-wing opposition, which unfortunately is what they appear to be doing on Trident and steel.

On the People’s Assembly demo, John McDonnell said “we are committed to scrapping Trident if we win the argument in the party”. On steel he called for temporary nationalisation, while Jeremy Corbyn in his video message just called for the government to “take a stake”.

Stop academies, cuts and attacks on teachers. Stop the Hunt contract and end cuts and privatisation in the NHS. Permanent, democratic nationalisation of steel. Nationalise the banks, rail, energy companies and the main planks of the economy under democratic workers control and management, so that we can begin to create a society in the interests of the millions not the super-rich tax-dodging billionaires.

“Everybody taking action at the same time is an idea that is well supported by many trade unionists and campaigners against austerity. But how to turn that idea into reality is the key issue of the day. The joint demonstration on 26 April could be the first step in coordinated strike action by NUT and BMA, two of the most important public sector unions in the fight to protect services and the conditions of the workers involved.”

Linda Taaffe, national secretary of the National Shop Stewards Network and a teacher

“On the big demo on 16 April John McDonnell said in his speech that we should aim to bring this Tory government down at the first opportunity. Health workers more than anybody are desperate to see the back of this tax-dodging shower.

“We can’t wait till 2020! Now is the time – with the attack on junior doctors, the unending pay freeze and the attack on student bursaries – for the health trade union leaderships to step up, get together and harness the anger in nationally coordinated strike action to save our NHS.”

Len Hockey, Unite the Union branch secretary, Barts health branch (in a personal capacity)

Click here for a Socialist Party leaflet: Together we can defeat the Tories; Strike toegether; No #juniorcontract No academisation