The junior doctors’ struggle continues. The BMA announced that the junior doctors will withdraw their labour, including emergency care, for five consecutive days from 8am to 5pm every month till the end of the year.
The first five-day strike had been set to begin on Monday September 12. However the BMA announced last week that the industrial action planned for September would be suspended in order to allow for the hospitals to plan around the strike.
News of this industrial action caused the political Establishment to rain havoc on the junior doctors.
Once again they are accused of compromising patients’ safety for their personal gain; once again they are accused of greed, recklessness and unethical behaviour, only this time things are much more intense.
In fact this unprecedented militancy has probably caused serious concerns to the Establishment, which is flexing its muscles and starting to reveal its true colours while putting pressure on the junior doctors to concede.
Some major medical institutions have publicly condemned the strike while claiming to protect the patients — in essence revealing their true bourgeois nature. At the same time the mainstream media, right-wing politicians, the PM and various Hopkins-like rent-a-gobs are throwing insult after insult at them.
Once again, and perhaps this time more than before, it is crucial that the working people of Britain stand by the junior doctors and see this dispute for what it really is: a crude manifestation of class struggle.
The class struggle manifests here in two ways. One is the fact that this new contract is a pay cut for almost all junior doctors.
What’s more it is a pay cut that comes to be added on top of many other subtle indirect pay cuts that have occurred in the last years.
The living standards of all doctors are being pushed lower and lower by the ruling class.
This is something that no worker should accept without a fight, since a worker’s labour is the only way for them to make a living.
Second, the ruling class of Britain wants to privatise every public service that has remained in the hands of the state, the NHS being the prime target. The process of privatising the NHS is one that began decades ago and now is reaching its climax, as the PFI debts and decreased funding are strangling all NHS trusts across the country.
It is important to the Establishment that the medical profession is discredited and that the overhead costs of running a health service decrease, in order for that service to be profitable enough.
The ruling class and the government are not interested in patient safety or in providing a seven-day NHS.
They push their agenda of lowering the living standards of working people and of privatisation without considering the effect this will have on the quality of the care provided.
Will an overworked and underpaid doctor be able to look after a patient as well as if they had been getting enough rest and felt that they were being compensated enough?
How naive is it, in our time, in this capitalist society that puts money and wealth above everything else, to expect a whole profession that requires such a great deal of hard work and commitment to be driven exclusively by ethical intentions?
What are the junior doctors supposed to do when they see their pay shrinking again and again, year after year?
There is nothing unethical in a worker withdrawing their labour in order to protect their pay.
In this case the strike is also protecting the patients’ safety. The junior doctors have a duty to look after their patients and themselves, because the former will be ensured by the latter.
The BMA’s role in the dispute is dubious. Back at the end of 2015, while it looked at first as if the BMA was reluctant to strike, it did eventually proceed to repeated industrial action.
However, following the strikes the junior doctors’ leadership was quick to accept a very controversial deal with the government and endorse it as a safe and fair solution.
In fact, many of the current junior doctor leaders had endorsed the amended contract and went around the country staging more than 100 roadshows in order to encourage the junior doctors to accept the new deal.
To the junior doctors’ credit they did not accept it, making further strikes inevitable. The BMA finally endorsed the escalated industrial action with a small majority.
Now one can see the same individuals who were urging their members to vote for the government’s proposed deal leading the new strikes. There are of course exceptions.
Was the form of industrial action chosen appropriate? Last year when the junior doctors overwhelmingly supported the strikes by 98 per cent, the BMA proceeded to three two-day strikes, each of them a month apart. The strikes were announced well in advance.
Now, with 68 per cent of the workforce rejecting the compromise deal, the BMA announced monthly strikes of five days in a row including emergency care.
The industrial action was announced on August 31, leaving the trusts only seven working days in order to plan for cover for the five-day strike beginning on September 12.
Was this decision to escalate industrial action to this extent because of the fact that the imposition of the contract was imminent or was there something more sinister behind the scenes?
This contradictory behaviour of the BMA can allow us to draw many conclusions. Unions as working-class institutions are precious and working people should support them.
However, they will always be the target of the ruling class which will try to assert its influence on them and turn them to another tool in its hands.
It is up to us to make sure that opportunism is not allowed to flourish in the unions and that they remain in the hands of the workers, a powerful weapon against our oppressors.
We can only do that by actively participating in our unions and actively participating in the class struggle, rather than sitting back and assigning someone else to solve our problems for us.
Now more than ever it is our duty to support the junior doctors and all NHS employees who are fighting for their right to fair pay and a safe working environment.
But in the case of the junior doctors it goes much further than that. If we want free healthcare in Britain, if we want to stop the privatisation of the NHS, if we want to finally put a halt to the offensive of the ruling class, we have to support the junior doctors’ strike.
On October 5 there will be a picket line at your local hospital. Go out and support the striking doctors. Keep going every day. Send a message that working people are united and that we are fighting back.
Lefteris Zografos is a doctor.