This weekend Jeremy Hunt did more to unify the health sector than over one hundred years of trade union organising and Corbynmania combined.
Nothing offends the scientific mind more than lies disguised as facts. His attempts to spin the underfunding of the NHS and the real costs of constant reform, who benefits from the privatisation of the NHS and why junior doctors are taking the first strike ballot in their history has really galvanised health workers.
The junior doctors’ dispute over pay and working conditions is the current battle line for the NHS. Over the last year it has felt that anyone working in health is slowly morphing into Che Guevara, for some of us minus the beard. This is because the situation in public health has become so obviously unfair to both staff and patients, we are all having to take a position. This isn’t ideological, its about social justice. #notfairnotsafe.
In fact there is so much political activity in the NHS that it’s become a full time occupation just keeping up, leading to the establishment of Health Campaigns Together to coordinate action between key players like Unite and the Medical Practitioners Union, NHS Survival , Doctors for the NHS, Medsin, Save the NHS, Keep our NHS Public, Patients First and the groups of junior doctors that are now forming.
There are thousands of seasoned organisers in the UK, many developed through trade union education networks, who are uncharacteristically en vogue. Our skills from organising picket lines to representing people in disciplinaries very much in demand.
One of the reasons is the acknowledgement that we lost the last battle when the Health and Social Care Bill was passed, pretty much killing off the institutions of public health. This, according to the people who drove the opposition through the unions and professional bodies, happened because of the self-interest of the people involved and the fragmentation of the rest of us. We did not actually stick together when it mattered.
Many organisers who have been active in the Battle for the NHS are of a certain age and filled with a mixture of both love and loathing for this new ‘movement’.
Part of this ambivalence is a result of the bitter experience of what it actually takes to protect jobs and public services. We know from experience how hard it is to maintain public support in the long term and to get sufficient gains to keep people in decent jobs.
So, what I am about to write is not the stuff of inspirational leadership rather its based on a practical knowledge of organising on the front line.
- If we don’t manage to stop the degradation of the junior doctors’ contracts we can say goodbye to defending clinical excellence and patient safety in the NHS. Its just over.
- To win the junior doctors dispute all of us have to act fast and strategically.
- This is not going to be done by continuing with the negotiations between the BMA and the UK Government. The negotiations have failed to secure any compromise on the part of the government. We’ve got nothing left to bargain with but taking industrial action.
- There will shortly be a vote for industrial action by BMA. If you are not a member of the BMA by Friday 23rd October you cannot vote.
- If you are a junior doctor you need to join the BMA as a matter of professional survival.
- If you are a doctor you need to send this email to any junior doctors you know and then join the BMA yourself
- If you are a BMA member you need to turn up at the meetings and make your voice heard. Even my mum knows that the BMA has been toothless and gutless for too long but ultimately its our fault if we dont make them step up
- Then, if you are a doctor junior or not, you need to join an actual trade union that has a good track record for defending people in your workplace. True, the institutional failures of the union movement have broken my heart but unions are the only show in town when it comes to defending working people. So choose a union – whether its Unite or Unison – that has actually made a difference where you work
- If you are working in health and social care this dispute matters to you as well. Whatever you think of doctors, their dispute is ultimately yours because if the golden boys and girls of the health sector cant defend decent jobs then those of us further down the professional food chain certainly cant. We need them to win. So send everyone you work with this email and join a union yourself.
Being right is not enough. You have to act and sharpish.
Join the BMA by Friday 23rd October and don’t waste a good crisis.
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