For the first time since 2016, junior doctors organised with the British Medical Association (BMA) have moved into strike action, in order to fight for full pay restoration.
Like many workers in the health service and across the public sector, junior doctors are staring down the barrel of the cost-of-living crisis.
Over a decade of austerity and privatisation has eroded pay and working conditions in the NHS, sparking off a series of strikes, as workers look to defend themselves.
In particular, the BMA has highlighted that junior doctors’ pay has fallen by 26% in real terms since 2008. This is without taking into account the latest jumps in inflation, which will only have made matters worse.
Tomorrow, on 15 March, junior doctors will be joined by workers from across the public sector for the latest trade union ‘day of action’. Unfortunately, however, their NHS colleagues will not be amongst them.
This strategy of suspension and negotiation has been cynically used by the Tories to attack the BMA, with government ministers putting pressure on the BMA to follow suit.
But the junior doctors and their representatives have correctly rejected this, refusing to abandon their strike action in order to join any talks – especially when it is clear that this is just a stalling tactic by the Tories, with no formal offer on the table.
This shows the danger facing the movement: of allowing the strikes to be picked off one-by-one, by a government attempting to play a game of divide and rule.
Instead, the unions should be coordinating their actions to hit even harder; refusing to suspend strikes for anything other than concrete offers that actually match the needs of their members.
United the movement can win – but divided, it will surely fall.
Socialist Appeal comrades have been visiting BMA picket lines this week, speaking to junior doctors, and offering solidarity and support.
What we’ve found are determined, dynamic pickets, manned by workers who are prepared to fight.
- Victory to the junior doctors!
- Unite the struggles! Escalate the action!
- Save our NHS with socialist policies!
- For a mass campaign against austerity and privatisation!
- Kick out the Tories! Kick out capitalism!
Comrades from the Leeds Marxist Society and Socialist Appeal were out on the BMA picket lines on Monday. Despite exhaustion from long shifts and understaffing, there was a real mood of excitement amongst the junior doctors, and a real appetite for radical change.
We talked to strikers about everything from extortionate student loans to the stubbornness of the local NHS bosses, who have refused to come anywhere near making a deal with Leeds BMA.
The junior doctors we talked to agreed that medicine was no longer the comfortable middle-class position that it once might have been. In fact, all of the supposedly ‘middle-class’ professions are coming under extreme pressure – including teachers, lecturers, and barristers.
It was also clear that these NHS workers are beginning to draw political conclusions. Some strikers, for example, were handing out satirical ‘one hundred clap’ tokens, with Rishi Sunak’s face on them, highlighting that the Tories’ empty gestures do not pay the bills.
These doctors are clearly drawing the right conclusions about who is to blame for the crisis in the NHS. And we stand with them to say: Down with this rotten Tory government! Victory to the workers!
On Monday, we attended the BMA pickets at Hallamshire and Children’s hospitals. What was immediately clear is that there is plenty of energy and enthusiasm on these picket lines.
The doctors we spoke to have clearly had enough. Everyone talked about underfunding, low pay, overwork, and the problems of privatisation. It seems that the experience of the previous struggle (in 2016) has hardened the BMA and HCSA (Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association) strikers.
In response to questions about coordination, some doctors pointed out how the government is trying to divide unions against each other by only negotiating with the RCN. “Everyone supports the nurses,” one striker stated, “and people will likely think doctors are just greedy.”
But public support for the doctors’ strike was very much apparent in Sheffield. Passing cars were constantly honking their horns, and one lady even pulled up to hand out some chocolates to those on the picket line.
When discussing this support, one NHS worker even agreed that we need to be prepared to break the anti-union laws, unite, and win the strikes. Another raised the need for a general strike. The mood is clearly militant in Sheffield – and beyond!
On Tuesday morning, comrades joined striking junior doctors on the picket line at UCLH in Euston.
There was palpable enthusiasm on the picket line. Many voiced how they were inspired by their nursing colleagues in the RCN, who were also out on strike recently. And they recognised that this is a joint struggle – not just with other workers in the NHS, but with all workers fighting for better pay and conditions.
There was also lots of support from the wider public, with a constant chorus of bus and car horns boosting morale for those on the picket line.
Passers-by often raised fists too. And several people stopped by to drop off cakes and biscuits for the strikers. Members of the BMA council also came along to show solidarity. They were warmly received by the pickets.
A similar scene was found in south London, at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Woolwich. The comrade who visited was greeted by the magnificent sight of 50-60 staff on strike, assembled outside the main gate. Even the Grim Reaper decided it was worth his time to visit the picket line!
The mood was positive, despite the wind and rain. Speaking to a few of the junior doctors, it was easy to feel their confidence, with no apologies about being on strike.
One doctor said that she wished there was another way. But this did not hold anyone back from enthusiastically calling for public support. “Clapping was fine, but where are you now,” was a common refrain, aimed at the Tories.
It’s clear that the BMA strikers in London are ready for the fight!
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The general consensus that comrades found on the BMA picket lines was that pay had to be restored in order to stop an exodus of staff.
One GP junior doctor spoke to Socialist Appeal, saying that, in some parts of the NHS, anywhere between a third to a half of junior doctors have left the profession over the past year. This dire situation was likened to the haemorrhaging of over forty thousand nurses in the same period.
Another junior doctor said that it is now common to see 40 patients in a day. “The demands put on us are becoming absurd,” they exclaimed, having workers in the NHS for over nine years.
“Some of the people I worked with have now left the profession to work in IT,” said another, adding that: “People who want to do this job because they care about it are being forced to leave. At the end of the day, you need to pay your bills.”
Rahul Mehta, BMA junior doctor (personal capacity)
Our local BMA picket, in East Kent, reflected the enthusiasm of junior doctors in fighting for our pay and conditions.
After a rank-and-file campaign of ‘ward walks’ (walking between wards to speak with juniors), infographics, and mess meetings, we held our first picket today. Despite heavy winds, the spirit was high, with regular chanting.
The public were overwhelmingly supportive, with regular thumbs-ups and honks. This included our colleagues in the ambulance service and commuting nurses.
We also had a local healthcare activist group and East Kent NEU branch attend in solidarity. Similarly, we had support from a couple of senior consultants.
The current generation of junior doctors are (re)learning traditions like a picket line. The renewed energy and militancy inside the BMA was reflected in chants like ‘No cuts! No losses! Take it from the bosses!’
With no sign of a compromise from Tory health secretary Stephen Barclay, and lessons learned from RCN’s struggle, junior doctors are committed to the militant demand of full pay restoration.
Will Collins, BMA junior doctor (personal capacity)
I attended the picket line at Scarborough General Hospital. There was a good energy, and a deep sense of anger towards the Tory government.
Doctors no longer feel like a privileged section of society. “Being a doctor is no longer a vocation,” said one of the striking workers. “New doctors come into the NHS and see that it is nothing like what they thought they signed up for.”
Despite this, there is a general feeling of optimism. The mobilisation for this strike has been impressive, and has drawn in wide layers of junior doctors. Many on the picket line wanted other unions to join us on strike, to strengthen our bargaining power.
One BMA rep told us that they were considering contacting RCN reps to discuss the possibility of coordinated action. “This dispute would be over even before it begins,” they stated, calling for all hospital and public sector workers to walk out together.
What took people by surprise the most was the high level of public support. Car horns were honking every 10-20 seconds. This shows that the general public do not blame doctors for the appalling state of the NHS – they correctly blame this rotten Tory government.
Unity is our main strength! Let’s coordinate the strikes, and bring down the Tories and the decrepit capitalist system they represent! We have a world to win!