Turnout in the latest round of strike action by junior doctors (26-27 April) was an estimated 78%.
Considering that around 80% of junior doctors are BMA members and that doctors on maternity leave, sick leave and those working nights won’t be included, this is an incredible turnout. Junior doctors are growing in confidence, our placards are improving and we are getting better at picketing effectively. Public support remains strong and more blame the government for this dispute than they did in January.
We have had the full support of senior clinicians and the rest of the health service, and they have done an incredible job of keeping our hospitals safe during our strike. As the government rhetoric becomes more panicked their true motivations become clear. The government is no longer worried about junior doctors. They are worried about the impact this strike will have on the currently dormant trade union movement. “With all negotiations, if you buckle at the end you send out a message to other union groups that you’ll back down,” one Whitehall source told the Guardian, on 26 April
Therefore we must show the government we can wake the trade union movement regardless, and force them into conceding before this goes any further. Some have begun to compare this to the miners’ strike. But after a week’s worth of industrial action being compared to the National Union of Mineworkers’ year-long strike shows a short memory. If you must have a historical precedent, try the 1888 match workers’ strike. Young women walked off the job after their colleagues had been sacked for complaining about poor working conditions. They struck for safety, acceptable working hours and fair pay. They too learnt their own strength and the meaning of solidarity on the picket line. They won their demands. It is only a matter of time, energy and commitment until we win ours. What do we need?
1. A plan for escalating strikes between now and the August imposition. This should be announced at one go, so that the message is clear. It should culminate in an indefinite strike where junior doctors state they are not going back to work unless imposition is lifted.
2. A national demonstration called by the BMA supported by the TUC. Demonstrations organised by regional junior doctor committees have been a huge success. We now need a national demonstration to show the government the people are on our side.
3. The BMA should affiliate to the TUC to argue for solidarity with junior doctors, and to repay the solidarity shown by the trade union movement. We should be talking to other unions and supporting the actions of the NUT against academisation.
4. In the Labour Party ask your MP to join us on picket lines and demonstrations. Picket outside private healthcare providers or their other businesses. Want to hold a candle lit vigil outside the department of health? Go for it. The broader the actions, the wider the message is spread the greater the chance of us doing something that works! It’s going to take a bit of faith. From the junior doctors to the rest of the trade union movement, and visa versa. But this is the challenge we have set ourselves. But look at what is at stake. This contract will increase rota gaps, it will drive doctors beyond breaking point and they will leave, the country, the profession, or be forced onto the sick. The NHS cannot survive without its staff. The government’s plan rests on the fact that we do not have enough faith in ourselves and each other. Let’s show them how wrong they are.