Doctors out in force for third phase of action
Junior doctors in England have been striking in force again on 9 & 10 March - their third period of action against worse contracts.
There's massive anger against the government for trying to impose a new contract and for all its other attacks on the NHS.
The doctors' union, BMA, said in a statement:
"The current proposals will affect those already working the most unsocial hours, hitting key parts of the NHS with the greatest problems in attracting and keeping doctors - such as our accident and emergency departments.
"This action is wholly avoidable but the government must get back around the table and negotiate with junior doctors, rather than simply impose a contract in which they have no confidence."
Further strikes are planned for Wednesday and Thursday 6-7 April; and Tuesday and Wednesday 26-27 April.
As well as the picket line reports below, see the articles in this week's issue of the Socialist:
Liverpool: Not Hunt's slaves!
Large and lively pickets outside the Royal Liverpool Hospital were well supported by the public, patients, and local campaigns and trade unionists. Junior doctors are angry at Hunt imposing the contract and determined to fight on.
Hugh Caffrey spoke to two of the doctors.
Nusiba Taufik, BMA junior doctors' rep at the Royal, said:
Hunt imposing the contract is quite upsetting really especially because they did it the day after our last strike, which just shows the Department of Health don't really care about what we're saying. But we're still going to be out here striking, talking to the public and letting them know why we are on strike.
None of us want to be in strike but it's the last thing we can do after we tried negotiating and tried talking to the government and it just hasn't worked. We want to see the government listen to us, listen to the public as well, because the public are behind us, and get this contract changed because it's not safe for the patients we see every day and it's not fair for us.
We're seeing doctors move abroad, we're seeing people not want to go into medicine in the first place, so if this contract isn't changed then before long it's going to affect the entire NHS. So we want to see it changed before that happens.
Aaron Borbora, BMA national junior doctors' committee deputy chair, said:
We're not going to stand by and allow the government to enforce a contract that damages our terms and conditions of working and threatens our health service. The NHS belongs to all of us and we're not going to be the ones who allow its loss.
The government needs to realise this ... If this contract's imposed, there'll be fewer doctors available to work in England. We're already overstretched after years of underfunding; if this happens and even a small number decide to go abroad, we simply won't be able to deliver the service.
It's quite likely that the government will then use this as an excuse to bring in private companies and dismantle the service, and we're not going to allow that to happen. All workers should be treated with respect and valued for the contribution they make. Simply to steamroller over the serious concerns of your staff is not the way to run anything.
Despite awful weather, junior doctors turned out in force again for their first strike since Jeremy Hunt's decision to impose the new contract on them.
Comparable numbers at both Leeds General Infirmary and St James's Hospital braved the weather to show their determination to resist this attack and the others that would undoubtedly follow if they are defeated.
One striker carried a poignant sign: "If you tolerate this, then the nurses will be next", which sums up how serious the dispute is. This is why it is urgent for the trade union movement to redouble support for this strike and mobilise trade union members in support.
In particular other health unions have a crucial role in organising to coordinate industrial action with the doctors.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
Royal Free, London
At the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London the BMA pickets are still in determined mood. People were queuing up to sign the petition and loads of drivers were tooting support.
One of the junior doctors was quite clear that this is the latest in a long line of attacks on the NHS and if the government gets away with these attacks on the junior doctors they will increase their attacks on other health workers.
The rain didn't dampen the mood of the junior doctors and their supporters on the picket line. Doctors are still determined to win but can see there needs to be an escalation in the battle to defeat the government. Jeremy Hunt is running scared, and as one doctor pointed out to me, he's avoided being on TV recently.
Confident that the public are on their side, the doctors want more action and more unions to support them to push the government back.
St Bartholomew's Hospital, London
The picket at Barts hospital began with five doctors and then soon more than doubled in size as more doctors arrived. One of the doctors - an oncologist - described how devastated he was when Jeremy Hunt imposed the new contract. He views the dispute as being also about the future of the NHS as a whole; during his seven years as a doctor he's seen the running down of support services, such as rehabilitation help for cancer patients.
He commented that contrary to government propaganda, patients receive a very good service from doctors when they need it at weekends, but the doctors are limited in the help they can give by the cuts that have been made in many other areas of health and social services.
Waltham Forest, London
Lots of junior doctors from Whipps Cross hospital were at Leytonstone tube station to talk to the public and win their support, which they already had! They have been slated by the government, but these overworked doctors were offering free life-saving CPR training to passers by.
Will Sapwell, BMA junior doctors' rep at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said:
"We are NOT giving up in spite of Hunt's imposition of the contract, it's still unsafe and unfair. We will continue to fight for our patients, for future generations of doctors and to keep a great NHS."
Junior doctor Danny Pernnells said: "We're taking this action which is causing short-term disruption but it is to stop the long-term dismantling of the NHS."
Even the very cold and wet conditions could not dampen the spirits and determination of the junior doctors on the picket at Southampton General Hospital. Spirits were high with many chocolate bars and cakes in circulation and smiles and laughs all around.
Conversations ranged widely, from the pay issue right through to the privatisation agenda, crippling PFI debts and the huge cost of pharmaceutical companies' supplies to the NHS. When some doctors were discussing the lack of funding for the NHS, one said firmly:" The money is there!" He then went on to describe the criminal tax evasion of corporations and wealthy individuals that translates to a lack of funds for vital public services.
One young doctor, Rachel, said: "This is not about pay and for Jeremy Hunt and others in this government to say it is shows how greatly they have underestimated us. If this was just about pay, we would not be on strike."
Later in Southampton city centre the BMA held a rally. They were joined by protesters taking part in the national day of action against benefit sanctions organised by Unite the Community, who had marched through the city centre to join up in solidarity with the doctors at Guildhall Square. These acts of solidarity were warmly received and junior doctors along with the BMA representatives expressed their gratitude.
Back at the picket line, one doctor explained: "Having the support of people coming to join us is extremely important and it is very much appreciated, especially on a day like today. Who wouldn't prefer to stay at home in the warm with a nice cup of tea?"
Doctors in Bristol are standing firm in the latest round of strikes, determined to see off imposition of the new contracts.
They are buoyed up by support from the public which was as strong as ever. The picket line in the centre of town was met with a constant cacophony of car horns and everywhere you went in town you could see people wearing BMA badges.
Pickets laughed and cheered as a truck driver honked and gave a clenched first salute outside Lambeth Hospital in south London. Support from the public and other health workers remains strong. A member of fellow health union Unison agreed with the Socialist Party's proposal that other health unions should ballot for coordinated action with the doctors, in light of the Tories' latest 1% public sector pay insult.
Strikers bought copies of the Socialist. The BMA rep is interested in our suggestion of approaching the hospital's Unite and Unison stewards to discuss putting pressure on union leaders for coordinated action.
One junior doctor said on the last strike day: "We're not used to being anti-establishment." But pickets at Lambeth Hospital are up for the fight.
Junior doctors turned out for day two of strike action at Alexandra Hospital, Redditch, Worcestershire, in a determined but reflective mood. Pickets all recognised that the dispute goes beyond them with the threat of privatisation in the background.
Discussions centred around where the dispute goes next with a mix of views about escalation. What stood out was their resolve, unity and dedication to the NHS and patients. The fact that many are wondering whether their years of training were worth it should concern everyone. One picket commented that he can no longer bear to look at Jeremy Hunt's face due to his lies and arrogance.
They fear being driven to work abroad. There is a clear recognition of the political nature of the move to impose contracts and the fact that the Tories intend to go on to attack other workers in the NHS and more widely.
When I raised the ideas of building links with other trade unions in Worcestershire, and of a national demonstration to defend the NHS and support their case, they were readily taken on.
We then got on to talking about the 2 million strong public sector pensions strike on November 2011 - how powerful that was, only for some leaders of Unison and the GMB to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. So other health unions need to act now with urgency. It was freezing on the picket line but tea and Ferrero Rochers helped us through it. I promised to return to support them in April.
You can see there's gritty determination to take on the Tories when junior doctors are out en masse in freezing cold rain. It was also clear they are digging in for the long haul as they mentioned looking forward to picket lines in the sunshine over the summer!
Their determination has clearly been boosted by the support both from members of the public and other hospital workers. Loads of cars and every ambulance that passed the picket line tooted in support.
At Gateshead's Queen Elizabeth Hospital our Socialist Party leaflet was well received. The bullet point suggesting coordinated strike action across the NHS in defence of pay and terms and conditions as a step towards a 24-hour general strike was particularly popular.
The strike has clearly politicised this section of young professional workers. Strikers were interested in discussing the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, the forthcoming EU referendum and the impact it could have on the Tory Party, the role of the media in misrepresenting workers' struggles and much more.
The doctors understand that they are being seen as at the forefront of the battle to defend the NHS. One of them proudly likened themselves to the miners who went on strike during the 1980s.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 10 March 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.