The announcement on 4 January that junior doctors will strike on Tuesday 12 January is good news.
There was never any doubt that NHS Employers would not be able to offer a contract which is acceptable to junior doctors. They have proved everyone right, and it appears that negotiations, while making some quite considerable progress have got no where near to solving the main issues.
Speaking on behalf of the British Medical Association′s (BMA) junior doctors committee, Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis said ″over the last few weeks, in the course of negotiations with Government we have encountered only intransigence. It is clear that the government perceives our contract issue as pivotal for its attempt to ‘reform’ the NHS towards a neoliberal, commercialised system.″
Despite months of protest, ACAS, negotiations and endless promises, tweets and bluster from Jeremy Hunt the main issues have remained unchanged. The government is trying to remove the system by which hospitals are fined for overworking their junior doctors, and the government is determined to make Saturday a ″normal working day″.
Junior doctors are right to be angry. Behind its propaganda the government is trying to take an NHS workforce which is currently breaking its back holding up a creaking system and attempting to destroy what little safeguards and protection we have.
Junior doctors will provide emergency care only for 24 hours from 8am on Tuesday 12 January, and for 48 hours from 8am Tuesday 26 January, and will withdraw their labour completely from 8am to 5pm on Wednesday 10 February. This model of escalating action, with dates named in advance shows a seriousness not seen from other public sector unions.
Doctors will stage picket lines at all hospitals and at some outpatient clinics and GP surgeries, as well has holding ″meet the doctors″ events after picket lines at local transport stops or shopping centres. It is crucial for this dispute to develop, make serious wins and to become a wider campaign about the NHS, that it has the grassroots involvement of doctors, other health workers and NHS campaigners.
The longer this goes on the clearer it becomes that this is not about junior doctors. It is just another salvo in an all out attack on all workers in the health service.
Save NHS bursaries
Cuts to the student nursing bursary will decrease access to nursing education for working-class students.
The psychological impact of that much debt will be a huge barrier. We are the lowest-paid profession of those requiring university-level training: teachers, social workers, doctors. The top salary outside of London is 25k per annum.
The cut will also destroy some of the public service ethos that means people work so hard, destroy some of that loyalty. It could create an incentive for people to leave the NHS to go into business. It’ll change the relationship between the workers and the service.
You’ll effectively be paying to work. As student nurses, we do some unpaid work on the wards as part of our training. When the bursary is taken away, we’ll be paying for the luxury of working.
The response from nursing schools around the country to the 9 January demo has been excellent. Nurses in my hospital are very supportive. They recognise how hard it’ll be for students. Like any part of the public sector, when they take action they get a lot of support. They’re people who’ve chosen to go into a job that’s not well-paid and takes a lot out of you, so there’s a lot of goodwill.
We need to build up public support and bigger displays of opposition. There’s been a network of students organising the protest. But it needs to become more cohesive, with more reach amongst student nurses, and on wards as well. There is a plan for days of action in the hospital, stuff everyone can participate in, like student nurses wearing a slogan T-shirt over their uniform, and demonstrations outside hospitals. We want to be able to push the government back by public pressure, develop organisation and build industrial strength. It’s not out of the question that student nurses could strike. A lot of students are used to plug gaps due to staffing cuts. Withdrawing that labour and showing up how dependent the NHS is on their free labour would be telling.
Rank and file nurses understand that if we don’t fight back, our jobs and service will be devastated. But the leaderships of the unions aren’t making any moves in the direction of a fight like that. So any initiative will come from below.