Labour and the TUC should call a big demonstration for reinstatement of the NHS as an adquately-funded public service, and to support the junior doctors and the student nurses.
The whole of the labour movement, including trade unionists who have industrial might because of their strategic place in the capitalist economy, should mobilise for our health, for our future, for a society which cares.
The junior doctors are right to strike, and the student nurses are right to demonstrate and to discuss planning walk-outs. The damage done to health care by their strikes is tiny compared to the damage that would be done by them complying with Tory plans.
Better than a strike by junior doctors alone would be strikes and demonstrations across the whole working class, to win quickly and decisively.
In the 1970s and the 1980s, other workers struck several times in support of health workers. Read this for example.
BBC News, 16 June 1982: “The South Wales coalfield has come to a standstill after about 24,000 miners went on strike in support of health service workers, who are demanding a 12% pay rise.... More than 15,000 people marched through the streets of Cardiff, in the biggest demonstration of support for the workers seen so far.
“Some of the striking miners joined health workers on picket lines outside Welsh hospitals, which were reduced to emergency cover only. In Cardiff hospital pickets were backed up by members of the National Union of Seamen.
“Other unions also declared their support for the health service workers’ pay claim. Demonstrators were joined by building workers, local authority workers, civil servants and delegates from the gas, electricity and water industries”.
The mobilisation then was not enough to defeat Thatcher, but it was enough to limit Thatcher’s damage to the NHS. After the Tories felt forced to dump Thatcher in 1990, they also felt forced to raise NHS spending sharply in the 1990s.
The Tories’ anti-union laws of the 1980s defined working-class solidarity of that sort as a criminal act. Scared by those laws, the British Medical Association forced Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis from the BMA junior doctors’ committee to retract after he published an appeal for trade unionists to show support on the 12 January picket lines. NHS employers threatened the BMA with legal action.
The Tory Sunday Times damned all public solidarity with the junior doctors. Trying to smear solidarity as something “ordered” and “instructed”, it screeched on 10 January:
“Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-left supporters have been ordered on to hospital picket lines in support of a nationwide strike by junior doctors this week... Momentum, the organisation founded out of Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign, has instructed activists to turn out alongside the medics on Tuesday.
“Last night, the Labour leader’s spokesman failed to condemn the call and said that ‘of course people will feel strongly’ about backing the strikers”.
For the Sunday Times, all human solidarity, any sentiment other than “I’m out to grab what I can in the market-place, and anyone who lingers to help others just deserves to be trampled”, is damnable.
We must not let this government, made up of people who think like the Sunday Times and share the same class interests as the media billionaires, destroy the NHS.
Together, we should show our strength with a big national demonstration, supplemented and built up to by local mobilisations to support every picket line and protest.
On Tuesday 12 January junior doctors across England and Wales struck against new contracts which would mean an extension of already long hours and cuts in pay.
Strikes originally planned for December were called off after the government and NHS employers agreed to negotiations after months of refusing to talk. Those negotiations achieved very little on the key demands of the British Medical Association (BMA) and so strikes were reinstated.
Junior doctors have huge public support: polls on the strike day showed 66% of the public in support of strikes. Doctors argue that this is a fight to save the NHS, and it is being seen that way. Aya, a GP trainee from London, told Solidarity she had been worried at first that it was difficult to justify defending doctors’ working conditions when many others were even worse off. Working in a poor area, she has seen how “all of the welfare cuts have really affected people’s health”.
But she was out on strike because she had decided that, “It’s about protecting the NHS as we know it. If doctors leave, who’s going to treat you? You’ll have to pay, and what happens to the people who can’t pay?”
Further strikes have already been announced for 26 January (with emergency care only) and escalating to a full withdrawal of labour on 10 February. This clear statement of intent from junior doctors will need to be backed up with local organisation, substantial picket lines and efforts to keep rank-and-file doctors involved in the campaign through local meetings and demonstrations between strikes.
Doctors at St Thomas′ hospital, London, were joined on the picket line by Dennis Skinner MP, Caroline Lucas MP, and Natalie Bennett of the Green Party. Activists from the Disabled People Against Cuts, health campaigners and socialists were also there. One doctor told Solidarity that “the nurses need to strike next, they deserve much better.” Around 30 activists took part in a bicycle flying picket visiting hospitals in London, delivering fruit and biscuits to the picket lines and carrying banners with the slogan “not fair, not safe″.
When the flying picket visited the Royal London Hospital, doctors were angry about the media. Junior doctor Daniel said “the media have exaggerated the disruption. A&E is open, we have the same staff levels as a bank holiday″. Another doctor Nat said, “the radio said it’s all just about doctors’ pay, Jeremy Hunt didn’t mention they’re cutting nursing bursaries!″
The picket line at the Royal London hospital turned into a rally, with lots of banners from trade unions, particularly Unison. Pickets were joined by students from Queen Mary′s university. Cam Stocks, a medical student and member of the NCAFC, told Solidarity: “This the latest attack in a fully-fledged assault. The government is already selling off services piece by piece — but this is not enough and now they are coming for workers. The government wants us to either work 40% more for the same pay, or deplete week-day resources to cover the weekend. The option for fair and safe working conditions and pay had never been on offer from them and that’s why we’re fighting.″
When the flying picket visited Guys Hospital, London Bridge, doctors were standing in the freezing cold talking to commuters, with stalls, petitions, stickers, banners and leaflets. ″We’ve not had any grumpy people yet! Thanks so much for coming down to support″ one doctor said to Solidarity.
At Homerton Hospital, London, about 40 junior doctors and their supporters leafletted the public and patients. They were joined by members of the NUT, NUJ, PCS and RMT, and got a very warm response from passing bus drivers. Other hospitals across London had large and lively picket lines and ″meet the doctors″ events. About 50 junior doctors and supporters were at the Queen′s Medical Centre in Nottingham, in high spirits despite cold rain, with another picket line at the City Hospital. Dr Ruth Watson told Solidarity that ″the government’s proposal to staff hospitals at weekends to same levels makes no clinical sense as the biggest bed blockers, elderly people, could not be discharged to social services at weekends″.
Many cars beeped support and not one patient or relative visiting the hospital complained about the strike. Momentum supporters and members of Broxtowe Labour Party visited. Dr Roma Patel, who helped organise the rallies, thanked Solidarity for its support. At Trafford General Hospital, Manchester, doctors held placards saying ″tired doctors make mistakes″, highlighting how increasing doctors′ already long working hours is going to harm patient safety.
The stakes are high
Junior doctors have taken a courageous step. Attempted bullying back to work by the media, government and certain sections of hospital managements has been convincingly fought off. Industrial action has been a huge success.
I never thought I would be part of a strike. Industrial action is not just about a day away from work. It is a collective agreement by the workers that their conditions are so bad that they must break their contract and refuse to work. For junior doctors this is an incredibly big deal.
Yet the stakes are higher still, and this is why our action has been so successful. If doctors are forced to work unsafe shifts above and beyond the staggering amount of work they already provide this will become the new normal.
Overstretched and overworked nurses and allied healthcare professionals will quickly be made to follow suit. An NHS already at breaking point will snap.
The potential ramifications of victory in this dispute go much further. Right to the heart of the NHS and the government’s attempts to break it.