JUNIOR DOCTORS: The Labour Party should give explicit backing to our strike!
In response to the Government's refusal to retract imposition, junior doctor industrial action scheduled for 26 and 27 April will be escalated to a full withdrawal of labour. This means that all junior doctors will not attend work or provide emergency cover between the hours of 8am and 5pm on Tuesday 26 April and Wednesday 27 April (18 hours in total). It is important to remember that it is only junior doctors that are taking industrial action and so other doctors and healthcare staff will attend work as normal. Since the BMA has given employers much more than the required 7 days’ notice of this action, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure a service is provided.
Dr. Yannis Gourtsoyannis writes: In method and scope, our strike is unprecedented in NHS history. We are striking for the same reasons trade unions have always gone on strike – for a safe and fair contract, for a viable work-life balance and, crucially in our role as NHS workers, for our patients’ safety and the future viability of the NHS.
In recent months, we have run pickets and ‘Meet the Doctor’ events at every major hospital in England. It was incredibly moving to experience the public’s overwhelmingly positive response. And our natural allies, our fellow trade unionists, did not let us down. Every major union in the country issued public statements of support for us; local activists visited our pickets with a handshake and a smile and spoke out in support of us at spontaneous rallies all around the country. That solidarity was beautiful to see. The Secretary of State’s recent decision to impose the contract upon us was not unexpected. Rather than being a purely negative development it actually represents a transition to a new chapter in the struggle – a struggle now stripped of the doublespeak which had been so prevalent throughout this contract dispute.
This is now clearly a zero-sum game. Either they win or we win. Either the NHS survives or the government gets its way. The Conservatives want the NHS to fail, and they want it to be seen to fail. But my union, the BMA, will not let this government succeed. My union’s willingness to take a stand is probably the single most positive thing that has occurred within NHS politics in decades. The BMA is finally, and honourably, acting like the union it has always been capable of being. We doctors are realising that we are a crucial line of defence in a battle taking place on multiple fronts – and some of us are even coming to the conclusion that we hold in our hands the fuse which could potentially ignite the wider health worker movement in a common defence of the NHS.
We will win this when organisations with a common goal come together to force a reversal in government NHS policy. We need to mount a robust defence of the current NHS until a Labour government comes to power (with socialist policies) in 2020. Looking ahead to the next few months, I am cautiously optimistic. We are doing well. In announcing imposition this government has lashed out, showing its true face to the whole country. It is an act of desperation.
The BMA is at this moment fulfilling a crucial societal role. We are one of the first real stumbling blocks encountered by this government in its relentless pursuit of austerity. It will be up to the wider trade union movement to step up to the plate – and it will be up to the Labour Party to convert the government’s stumble into a crashing fall. The junior doctors’ dispute is objectively the seminal episode of industrial action of this generation. The Labour Party must therefore be unapologetic in expressing this fight in political terms. The Labour Party needs to fulfill its historical role and explicitly endorse our strike, making the necessary political connections between our industrial action and the wider movement against public sector cuts and the undermining of the NHS.
The Labour leadership must reclaim the narrative from those who seek to limit discussion to the purely technocratic. This is about the future of the medical profession and the future of the NHS. The public are with the doctors on this. The NHS as a whole stands with us too. We are doing our bit outside of Parliament – but if we are to win this, Labour MPs need to stop their internal sniping, get behind the leadership and seize the chance to go after the Tories in a sustained way. If they don’t, we won’t have an NHS left to defend by 2020.