As Solidarity goes to press on Tuesday 26 April junior doctors are starting a two-day, all-out strike with no emergency-cover.
The strike is an escalation from previous strikes by junior doctors where they have provided emergency-cover. In these strikes it will be up to hospital managements to ensure that hospitals are safe and move consultants from other duties into emergency-care roles. This will cause delays to elective procedures that consultants would otherwise have been carrying out.
The government has given its clearest sign yet that it sees this dispute as a fight over the future of their austerity plans. They have decided they cannot afford to lose against the doctors. On Monday 25 April, a government source told the press that the BMA was trying to ″topple the government″; that the dispute had ″radicalised a generation of junior doctors″ and that if the government backed down it would face similar industrial action by other unions, which were watching this dispute ″like a hawk″.
Junior doctors have been staging a permanent sit-in outside the Department of Health since 13 April; by the sit in is an empty chair with Health Secretary Hunt′s name on it. But Hunt is still refusing to discuss the main objections to the doctors’ new contracts. Junior doctors in Leeds have copied the action in London with a sit-in outside of the DoH offices in the city.
The BMA junior doctors′ committee will meet in mid May to discuss the next steps in the campaign. Proposals by left-wing activists in the BMA will include: calling a national demonstration and escalating the number and tempo of local protests; escalating strikes to include evening strikes and weekend strikes with a mixed timetable of strikes leading up to contract imposition in August; and action short of strikes including both ″softer″ action such as giving leaflets to every patient and ″harder″ action such as disrupting non-essential paperwork.
This is a fight that can be won. The government is clearly under lots of pressure. Keep the fight up!
Picket line round-up
Lewisham Hospital: Much bigger and livelier than last time. The general view seemed to be: now it’s time to get serious and now we’re going to have an impact.
Royal Bournemouth: Only six people involved in the dispute crossed the picket line. Mass attendance from CWU Conference delegates at lunchtime to show solidarity (about 150-200 delegates) with Dave Ward speaking at an impromptu rally.
Royal London, Whitechapel: Between 40 and 50 at the picket. Positive atmosphere and a good reception from the public. Chants focused on Hunt’s incompetence.
Newcastle: Junior doctors and their supporters braved the snow and cold to hold a picket line at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle with an impressive array of placards.
“Spread the word, counter Tory spin”
Dr Jessica Gates, BMA junior doctors rep, University Hospital (Queens Medical Centre) Nottingham, spoke to Solidarity.
We have got well over a hundred people on the picket line and are being constantly beeped with messages of support from the public as they pass in cars. We have had some of the consultants come down to the picket line and talk to us how they are doing inside. We are confident that there are highly trained experts inside who are looking after the patients. And that no patients should come to harm. It was our intention to stop the government turning the public against the doctors, and that has worked. Over the last few days we have heard cross-party support for removing the imposition of the contract. But Jeremy Hunt has not agreed to do that, which is why we are still here again today. I hope that today is a big enough message to him, the public support that we have had, the amount of doctors who still feel strongly about this, should send a message to him to think again and get back to talks. We have had a lot of support from other trade unions and we obviously would like that to continue. It is going to get harder and harder if we have to escalate these strikes. Just spreading the word, talking and explaining the real facts to the public about the dispute, countering the government spin. The Labour Party has been very supportive both locally and in parliament. Yesterday several Labour MPs stood up to Jeremy Hunt and told him to think again. For that we are very grateful.