THE decision by the British Medical Association to authorise fresh strike action by junior doctors over the imposition of a new work contract is a decisive blow against the Tory government.
When Theresa May was installed as Tory leader after Cameron was forced to resign over his crushing defeat over the Brexit vote, she immediately purged the Tory leadership, with most observers expecting the detested Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also to be given the boot.
The fact that May kept Hunt in place was the clearest sign that despite all the waffle about a new one-nation Tory government, her priority was to have it out once and for all with the junior doctors and smash any resistance to the plans to lay waste to the NHS and set it up for full privatisation.
Imposing the cost-cutting new contract, that even Department of Health civil servants called ill-thought out and ‘impractical’, is vital to the Tories as a trial run for imposing similar contracts on all NHS staff and workers, paving the way for the ‘de-nationalisation’ of the NHS, of which Hunt is a fervent supporter.
The Tories, although weak and divided, drew strength from the fact that in May the leadership of the BMA reached a treacherous agreement with Hunt on this contract. In return for a few paltry concessions, the BMA leaders caved in to every one of Hunt’s main demands – for an unfunded extension of junior doctors’ working week that would place an intolerable strain on a service already stretched to breaking point and place patient lives at grave risk.
In July, the BMA leaders put this sell-out deal to a vote of junior doctors, with the strongest possible recommendation for acceptance, claiming it was the ‘absolute best deal possible’. They got the shock of their lives when it was rejected by an overwhelming 58% on 68% turnout, forcing the resignation of the Chair of the Junior Doctors Committee.
Faced with the absolute determination of junior doctors to carry on the fight for the NHS and the refusal of the Tories to engage in any new talks, the leadership of the BMA has been forced to call this action. With just weeks to go before the first group of doctors have the new contract imposed on them by government diktat, the BMA has called a new wave of strikes starting with a ‘full withdrawal of labour’ for five days between 12 and 16 September, with further dates to be announced.
The determined resoluteness of junior doctors to fight the Tory government and refuse to buckle under Hunt’s dictatorship stands in stark contrast to the refusal of the leadership of the TUC to offer even the slightest resistance to the attacks on the health service.
Not a single action has been called by the TUC against the Tory austerity cuts which have resulted in the NHS facing the worst crisis in its history. While the Tories have systematically and consciously cut NHS funding and created a situation where A&Es and other wards are being closed for lack of trained staff on a daily basis across the country and where whole hospitals are being financially bankrupted and threatened with closure, the TUC have done nothing.
This treacherous betrayal of the NHS cannot be tolerated a minute longer. The starting date of the junior doctors’ strike coincides with the opening of this year’s TUC Annual Congress in Brighton.
The WRP and Young Socialists are lobbying the congress on that Monday and we call on junior doctors along with every worker and young person to join this lobby and demand that junior doctors are not left to fight for the NHS on their own and that the TUC leadership be forced to call all-out strike action by the whole trade union movement in defence of doctors and in defence of the NHS.
The congress must be instructed to immediately organise the general strike to bring down the Tories and go forward to a workers government and socialism. This is the way forward.