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From: The Socialist issue 875, 21 October 2015: Strike to save the NHS

Search site for keywords: Doctors - Socialism - Strike - NHS - Health - Pay - London - Unions - Medical - Union - Nottingham - Manchester - Austerity

Strike to save the NHS

Support for socialism on doctors' demo

Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack

Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

Paul Callanan, Socialist Party London

Twenty thousand doctors and health workers marched against Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt's vicious attacks on pay and conditions in London on 17 October.

Thousands more demonstrated in Nottingham and Belfast.

Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack

Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

London's mainly young march was angry and determined - but also lively and optimistic about taking on the government. Doctors' union the British Medical Association (BMA) called the demo.

Thousands more wanted to be there. Blue placards throughout the march bore the names of doctors who were working at the time of the demonstration. Hunt's claim that the NHS is not a "24/7" service was proven false.

Hunt's so-called reforms would see junior doctors' normal hours extended from Monday to Friday 7am to 7pm - to Monday to Saturday 7am to 10pm. There will be no extra money for unsocial hours. It effectively amounts to a 30% pay cut.

Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack

Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

Longer hours mean doctors are more likely to make mistakes - putting patients' lives at risk.

Loud cheers went up for every speaker at the rally who called for defence of the NHS. Thousands on the march chanted "Hunt must go", "NHS! NHS!" - and "BMA! BMA!" The BMA, traditionally a very conservative body, is now seen as an organisation that will fight for the NHS and its workers.

It is clear from the reactions Socialist Party members got on the demo that the tide is turning against the Tories.

Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack

Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

There was also support for socialist ideas.

Socialist Party leaflets were snatched up by crowds looking for a strategy to defend the NHS and beat back the tide of austerity.

One junior doctor turned to his friends after taking our leaflet and said: "I voted Conservative in May, and now I'm a socialist!"

Strike

The BMA is now balloting for strike action. This would be the first time doctors have walked out since 1975.

Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack

Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

There is a huge mood among them for a fight. One doctor commented: "I don't know one junior doctor that doesn't want to go on strike"!

The decision to call a ballot has been supported by a 50,000-strong petition including doctors and the public. Doctors must now be prepared to take that action and see it through until they win.

The attacks on junior doctors are a part of a much bigger attack on the NHS. It is vital that all the unions representing health workers co-ordinate action. A wider call for solidarity from the rest of the trade union movement would win huge support.

This is a hated government with a majority of just 12 seats in parliament. In spite of their recent triumphalism after winning May's election, they are weak. A 24-hour general strike could stop them in their tracks - and kick-start the kind of movement we need to consign them to history.


Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack

Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

"I don't know one junior doctor who doesn't want to strike. Many doctors remember the four-hour strikes called by health workers' unions over pay last year, and thought they were a farce. I think most feel a strike should last at least a week."

Donal Bradley, Manchester Royal Infirmary

Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack

Junior doctors and health workers march against attacks on unsocial hours pay, London, 17.10.2015, photo by Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

"I was a medical student in 1975 - the last time junior doctors went on strike. The BMA and senior doctors then were mostly concerned about defending their right to carry out private practice. Many of its leaders had campaigned against the NHS before it was set up in 1948. At times I felt overwhelmed with emotion. Thousands of young doctors cheering every speaker who called for the defence of the NHS, chanting "NHS! NHS!" and "BMA! BMA!" What a massive change!"

Jon Dale, Mansfield Socialist Party

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